Leaders of Color on the Executive Path: Will “Executive Presence” Alone Be a Trajectory to the Executive Suite?

Posted on Feb 18, 2015 in Executive Leadership, Healthcare Leadership, Leadership

A recent book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, suggests that the real measure of success is “executive presence” (EP), not just performance for leaders of color. Dr. Hewlett defines EP as a “measure of image” that conveys to others that you have what it takes to be an executive. Based on survey research conducted by her company, the Center for Talent Innovation, “executive presence” encompasses three dimensions: gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak), and appearance (how you look). In addition, the research indicated that minorities remain skeptical about their opportunities for promotion and, more specifically, Dr. Hewlett suggests that progression to the executive level is still extremely difficult for people of color. Her position is that “executive presence” is a critical success factor. In fact, Dr. Hewlett sees it as a precondition for achievement. But will EP alone be the trajectory to the executive suite for leaders of color? While “executive presence” is essential, a positive image alone will not guarantee passage to executive status. Image needs to be established on a solid foundation of inner consciousness.   Otherwise, leaders of color risk becoming actors with a good external image and a weak sense of self.

Inner Consciousness

Inner consciousness is a composite of several important attributes and actions that work together synergistically to develop the foundation you need to know who you really are and to get comfortable in your own skin. It is from this inner core that positive image emerges. Consider working on the following to develop your inner consciousness:

  • Self-Awareness

Conscious self-knowledge means that you know and understand yourself with an ongoing intention to grow and live at the highest level of your best self. This mindfulness taps into the very essence of who you really are. It is the practice of being attentive and responsive to positive growth. The integrity to be completely honest about your strengths, weaknesses, core values, and purpose is the heart of self-awareness. Holding up the inner mirror to see yourself clearly and truthfully is a meaningful ongoing practice that will inform your outer image. This will help you to lead from a place of clarity and strength.

  • Self-Esteem

Do you accept who you are, both strengths and weaknesses? Acceptance is essential for healthy self-esteem. A positive attitude toward your self fuels the self-confidence required for “executive presence.” Dr. Nathaniel Branden in his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem defines it as “the experience of oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and worthy of happiness.”  He suggests that self-efficacy and self-respect are interrelated components of self-esteem. Self-efficacy means that you have confidence in your abilities to think, learn, and make decisions.   Self-respect suggests a positive attitude about your worthiness and capability to be assertive.  “Executive presence” is authentic in the presence of healthy self-esteem.

  • Self-Reflection

The purpose of leadership reflection is to deepen the understanding of yourself (strengths and weaknesses) and practices for learning and growth. It is a process that develops the leader within and influences leadership effectiveness. Reflective executives have more of an opportunity to develop all three dimensions of “executive presence.” This is because the ability to reflect in the moment and to look back on your patterns of thinking, what you are doing , how you are speaking and how you are looking give you a better chance to learn and change. It is leadership development in action and a powerful process for growth. Keeping a journal can further enhance your development. The journal is a documentation of your reflecting in action. It may include thoughts, ideas, inspirations, lessons learned, questions, reactions, feedback, and action plans for change. The combination of reflecting in action and journaling can enrich “executive presence.”

Linking “Executive Presence” with Inner Consciousness

Outer image and inner consciousness work together as key components to expedite movement on the executive path. Leaders of color face unique challenges that make the path harder for them. This is all the more reason why a strong foundation of inner consciousness that builds self-confidence and self-esteem is essential. An effective person that acts with dignity and authenticity has a greater possibility to make the move into the executive level. “Executive presence” informed and sustained by inner consciousness will be a powerful trajectory.


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