Leadership presence in 3D
Sylvia Ann Hewlett has written a new book on executive presence. I’ve always been very impressed with her work and how in-depth and comprehensive it is. As an economist, she has written about female talent, finding sponsors or mentors for your work, career on- and off-ramps and mixing motherhood and work. Her new book is titled Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success. There’s a good interview with her in Forbes written by Moira Forbes where I read what she had to say on the topic of what leadership material is. Hewlett’s research among senior executives, particularly women, found that executive presence is critical to success and the three factors driving that climb up the ladder are appearance, communications and gravitas. This makes perfect sense although I believe that a great deal more goes into earning the top spot, the CEO position. I have met a CEO or two that does not have executive presence in the full sense but runs their company famously well. All three drivers, whether we like it or not, do matter today for executives because we are all now public figures.
Nearly two-thirds of executives say that gravitas (love this word) is critical because it causes others to follow you and trust your vision and leadership. This is why there is an entire industry of executive coaches. Gravitas can be learned I suppose.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what it takes to drive an excellent CEO reputation. I think it is a combination of strategic smarts, ethical conduct, ability to inspire and motivate others, solid communications skills and an eye on the future. A sense of optimism and humility also go a long way because it is a job with lots of twists and turns that can easily derail confidence.
Talking about executive presence, here’s one for the books. Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, used quite the new channel to communicate with the world’s largest electorate and rally support. He sent a 3D-hologram to nearly 1,500 remote locations in India to earn their votes at election time and get his messages across without being physically present. His presence was “greeted with a mix of awe and disbelief. Many poorly educated voters had stayed behind after rallies to check behind the dais to see if he was really there, officials said.” You could say this is the opposite of gravitas, it is pure lightness.