Janie Sharritt used to wear a ponytail to work at Sara Lee, along with scant makeup, khakis, sweaters and loafers.
Then a “Power of Image” workshop changed how she presented herself. Her makeover included a sophisticated hairstyle, snappy jackets and slacks, pumps, colorful necklaces and extra makeup.
Now, when she shares her ideas with senior managers, they listen and buy in to what she’s saying. “In the past, [that quick buy-in] wasn’t one of the things I was known for,” Sharritt says.
Savvy executives know they need to act and look the part. The administrative professionals who support them can also benefit from building what’s called “executive presence.”
Intel Corp. is among the businesses who have launched programs to teach staffers executive presence. The company’s chief diversity officer, Rosalind Hudnell, says she put a program in place because rising female stars needed help selling their ideas within the company.
How can you spruce up your own executive presence?
1. Know where you’re strong and weak. “People are blind to their biggest derailers,” says Karen Kaufman, an executive coach.
2. Take note. When you see people with executive presence in your office, figure out what exactly they’re doing and write it down in a journal.
3. Ask for frank feedback, before or after a big appearance. Intel’s Hudnell noticed that male colleagues would ask for pointers before appearing before an executive audience—but Intel women sought her counsel only after something went wrong.
4. Heed the pros’ advice. Coaches recommend doing the following to improve your executive presence: Sit on one hand to keep from gesturing too much. Avoid interruptions by counting to four before you talk. Use few qualifiers, such as, “I could be wrong, but …” since they imply you lack confidence.
— Adapted from “How to Look and Act Like a Leader,” Joann S. Lublin, The Wall Street Journal.
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