Executive Presence: Can It Be Learned?

At a networking breakfast recently with a newly placed officer of a global firm, we were discussing the EMBA she received 12 years ago and she remarked how she still stays in touch with her class peers. In fact, she networked with them to get this new job.

We talked about how much she has grown and how important it is for her to be able to articulate her value within her new company, a fast growing firm with all new team members and board of directors. She is now gathering ways to help build her executive presence, increase her credibility, and navigate her new environment in a manner that will facilitate her influence quickly.

What if she had developed the skill of being able to tell her leadership story in engaging ways over the past decade? We both agreed that this type of ‘soft skill’ training was not part of her EMBA program and is greatly needed. It could have added real value to her career development over the past 12 years.

What are the soft skills of executive presence and can these skills be learned?

Articulating your value and personal brand differentiators are the building blocks for the foundation of executive presence. According to career development expert Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the three key elements of executive presence are:


And indeed, there are skills in each category that can be learned and developed. Leadership coaching and solid skill building in personal career management can guide and support leaders in building executive presence in a way that compels people to follow them. Elements include:


While EMBA programs are terrific at helping one build and burnish core leadership skills, you also need to pay attention to the outward manifestation of those capabilities. Developing an executive presence that communicates your leadership strengths is essential to making all your hard work pay off with the career growth you want.

One way to get started is through a self-inventory that can help you gain insight into the current state of your leadership presence. You may want to solicit a trusted partner to help you answer these questions.


Understanding your particular leadership style and how you present to others can help you enhance your executive presence in ways that support your career goals and expand your opportunities.