Develop your executive presence

Dear Joan:
I have recently been promoted to an executive level position. My manager has given me a new role, with an aggressive agenda. My function will cross over many of my peers’ departments and has the potential for overlap and confusion about who does what.

The executives are all Type A’s and are driven by results. A lot is expected of me in a very short time. I have been given this job as a bit of a “stretch,” since I’m younger than many of them and newer in the company. 

I have been told I need to develop my “executive presence.” I think I understand what that means but it would help to have your perspective. What, exactly, do you think I should be doing? Thanks in advance. 

Answer:

You obviously are a “high potential,” whom they think can grow into the job. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and smart of the company to tap you early. Career development is best when it’s on the job, not in a classroom, and a stretch assignment like yours is the best way to grow a high potential. 

The problem, though, is that your mistakes will be more visible at your level and critics will be watching. The aggressive agenda adds to the risk. Without some mentoring from your manager, or some other executive or coach, you could stumble. 

Here are a few things that will enhance your executive presence:

Get clear marching orders and ask your manager to broadcast them to the affected departments.  
If your peers don’t understand your charter, they are likely to challenge and resist your attempts to create your department’s new role and responsibilities. It will save time and energy if your manager makes it clear what he is asking you to do.

Reach out to colleagues across department lines. 
Don’t be intimidated by the fact that they have been there longer, or are older. Your skills and abilities have propelled you into this job, so show them that you aren’t going to act young, na├»ve and brash. Seasoned executives know that building relationships is the key to getting things done at that level—especially across departments.

Set up appointments with your fellow executives and hear what they have to say. Find out what they are looking for from you; ask what they are concerned about. Look for synergies and capitalize on them. Also, if you can find some easier “wins” early, it will help you build some momentum.

It’s important to keep them in the loop and involve them as you shape the vision of your new department. If they don’t understand what you are trying to do, and how it will help them, they are likely to stonewall your efforts. Nobody likes some other department coming in and telling them what and how they should work…so focusing on solving their problems will be critical.

Help your team, and others, understand where you want to take the department.
Your first job is to figure out what your vision is— what your department will be and how you plan to get there. The message has to be centered on adding value. For departments that cross over many functions, adding value is why they exist. If they see you as adding processes and paperwork, they will resist the bureaucracy.

You all have to speak the same language, which means involving your team in creating the vision. It would be wise to work on direction and strategy together, and do it periodically, not just once, so they “get it.”

Push back when you are pulled in too many directions.
This is common when you are in uncharted waters. Since you don’t have an established job description, everyone will want a piece of you. It will be a challenge to stay focused, since it is tempting to run after projects that people want you to do. However, make sure the work you do is true to your vision of the future, or you will be pleasing too many masters and could get mired in tasks that get you nowhere.

Speak up.
It’s tempting to stay quiet in a powerhouse group, when you are the new guy. But they are all going to want to see where you stand. You have knowledge and credibility, or you wouldn’t have been promoted, so speak up when you have a point to make. Hold the floor long enough to make your points, and if you are holding back, I suggest you try to speak up a few times in each staff meeting. Over a few weeks, it will come more naturally.

Use executive summaries.
Once you are at the executive level, you are expected to be to the point in your presentations. Your colleagues probably don’t have the same technical background as you, and long, detailed presentations will cause them to glaze over. 

Cut your slides down to the vital few. Make the message crisp and tell the story. They want to know: What is your point; why is it important; and what do you want from us. It might pay to run your presentations by a trusted colleague, or work with a presentation coach, who can help you be succinct and tell your story clearly. It’s communicating persuasively, not technical speak, that is needed in your new role. 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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