Want to Get Ahead? It’s Time to Develop an Executive Presence

We all know that working hard greatly improves your chances of being promoted. But what else can you do to give yourself a career advantage? One step you may be overlooking is developing an executive presence.

What does that mean, exactly, you ask? It means creating a professional image: displaying confidence and the subtle qualities that companies look for in prospective leaders.

Dress to Impress

When I first started my career, someone told me this one bit of advice that stuck with me over the years: Dress for the job you want, not the one you’re in. In other words, aim to look like someone who is already in that next-level (or an even higher) position.

So, even if it was Casual Friday and everyone wore jeans, I’d take it up a notch and pair the jeans with a dress shirt and blazer. I still fit in – after all, I didn’t want to appear to be not part of the team or trying too hard – but maintained a professional image.

Be Decisive

It’s hard to create an executive presence if you waffle with decisions and rarely speak up. As you’re given opportunities to offer input, share your thoughtful feedback.

Be careful not to sound wishy-washy, either: Be clear that you understand the topic and feel confident in your advice. “I recommend we purchase this software because it offers these features …” sounds a lot stronger than, “This software might be a good choice, but I’m open to other ideas.”

Watch What You Say

Speaking of language, you’ll need top-notch verbal and written communication skills to have an executive presence. The more you move up in an organization, the more these abilities will be in the spotlight, whether you’re crafting reports for executives or sending emails to your employees. Your prospects may be hindered if leaders worry you’ll make a negative impression when you share information.

If you have specific communication weaknesses – for instance, maybe you’re not the greatest at summarizing complex information in written form – consider taking classes to improve your abilities. It’s worth the extra effort.

Take Action

Also create a strong executive presence by showing initiative. Leaders don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do: When they see something needs to get done, they do it or figure out a plan for getting it done.

For instance, if you know your boss is traveling to a conference in a couple days, you might confirm all of the reservations and finer details before you’re asked. Or maybe you spot a typo on the company website and contact the appropriate person immediately to get it fixed. Small actions can have a big impact.

What steps have you taken to bolster your professional image?