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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #121: Strengthening Your Leadership Mindset with Executive Presence

January 28, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #121: Strengthening Your Leadership Mindset with Executive Presence

Developing the mindset of a leader can often be undermined when you don’t see yourself having the presence of a leader. Today, Chris and Perry will discuss the three areas of Executive Presence and how developing yourself in these areas can positively affect your leadership mindset.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell executive leadership podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice-president for The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Just as a reminder, visit There you can download a learner’s guide to follow along with us today. You can learn more about some of the virtual training that we are doing in the year 2021, or even if you have a topic or something that you’re struggling with as a leader that you’d like Perry and I to address, you can leave that information on that site. Well, today’s topic is entitled strengthening your leadership mindset with executive presence. Perry, that was, wow-

Perry Holley:    A very adult title, isn’t it?

Chris Goede:     My goodness. How long did you work on that? I always give him a hard time about his titles, but this one, I like. Strengthening your leadership mindset with the executive presence. And I know that we have done podcasts in the past on executive presence. Matter of fact, I think it was number 61, or on the website you’ll be able to scroll down and see that executive presence podcast. But today we’re going to talk about executive presence as it pertains to how you see yourself as a leader and your leadership mindset. And I’m excited to dive into this today with Perry because Perry and I have actually had multiple conversations with this years ago, which is crazy to think it was years ago. Perry and I actually sat down and he coached me through really what this meant, what it looked like. And we brainstormed back and forth and spoke into my leadership around this when it comes to executive presence and starting with the mindset. Perry, fired up to talk about this today. Talk a little bit about what your thoughts were in creating this.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, we’ve been talking leadership mindset over the last weeks and just a reminder, your leadership mindset is a lens through which we see ourselves in a role of a leader. When I sense someone still has an individual contributor mindset, I’ll often ask them to rate their level of executive presence. And when I get an answer that they have little or no executive presence, I know they may have a leadership mindset issue. It all comes down to, how do you see yourself? And I love this topic, executive presence, and how we present ourselves to others. Do others see us that way? And I think we mentioned on a podcast or two ago about that, I find some people getting into leadership positions, even if they don’t have a title, but they’re a team leader or they’re a supervisor or something that they have, I feel like, an imposter syndrome. I couldn’t possibly be the leader. And I’m here to tell you, I think we would support that everybody can be the leader, it’s about developing your influence and that’s what you should be working on is, how do you develop influence with others? And then if you do get a title, the title is really just the lowest level of influence there is. You need to build it from there. What are your thoughts on executive presence?

Chris Goede:     It’s interesting how you have kicked this off here because I’ve always considered… A matter of fact, when you and I started talking about this years ago, the executive presence being about how other people see me. Which now that I say that out loud, and I’ve verbalized that with our listeners, that sounded so self-serving. That’s not how I meant it to be, but it’s interesting because what you’re talking about and we’re going to dive into today is the executive presence of how you see yourself. How you carry yourself in that mindset. And if you don’t see yourself as having that, you’re going to really struggle to have a strong leadership mindset. Let’s go back and even from some of our conversations, or maybe even some of the leaders that you’re working with, because we work with all levels of leaders. Some are first-line leaders, early in their leadership. Some are in the middle management, others are executive level, but how would you coach someone to develop their leadership mindset by increasing their executive presence?

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Perry Holley:    This description, or definition of executive presence that I’ve really adopted, I love it so much from Sylvia Ann Hewlett. It’s a great read if you haven’t read her work on remarkably enough, Executive Presence. She breaks it out, executive presence, into three components. One being gravitas, second being communication and the third being appearance. And so when I think about those three, maybe we should look at them separately, maybe see the strengths and struggles that we might find for leaders that struggle in this area. Gravitas is an interesting word. I often laugh at myself because I was doing a presentation on it. I was doing an international, I was going to a bunch of different countries. I decided that I would be really slick on my charts. I would translate because gravitas, trying to explain it to someone, what is gravitas. I would put it in their local language. I looked up gravitas in French is gravitas. I looked at gravitas in Spanish is gravitas. What’s gravitas in Swedish? It’s gravitas. Oh, this is one of those Latiny, Greek words. It’s the same in all languages. I had a good laugh at myself and my wife had even a better laugh because I took two years of Latin in school. And she thinks that was a big waste of time.

Chris Goede:     Listen, I think you just outed yourself that you didn’t have too much gravitas this presentation.

Perry Holley:    That’s right. Anyway, gravitas is where we get the word gravity. It’s a heaviness, a weightiness. When we think about considering your leadership mindset, we think of a leader being a serious person, and it’s how you carry yourself. When you enter a room do people know? Is your presence known, is it felt? Is the heaviness felt? I don’t know how you see it. Can you tell when someone has gravitas, does that reveal itself to you?

Chris Goede:     It’s funny. I don’t think that I think about it that way. Usually it’s like, Hey, look. Perry just jumped into this. Walked into this room with a Zoom meeting, look at the gravitas that he has. I don’t think that is necessarily the conversation you’re having with yourself. But you can tell, I think you can tell. I think about it when they say, he or she has the it factor. It’s similar to having that, it’s a little bit of that quiet confidence to have the grace and the consistency, no matter what’s going on around them. You’re not shaken by questions that you’re receiving from people. I like the quiet confidence of how you put this in here. You know your stuff. You don’t get rattled. That’s another word, you don’t get rattled. You seem to have integrity, honesty. You tell the truth. I think that we can tell when someone has it. I definitely don’t think we go around asking ourself that question of whether they have it or being like, Hey, Perry’s got that gravitas, check him out. But you do know.

Perry Holley:    Well, Sylvia Ann Hewlett talks about being five questions deep. That always stuck with me is that why would being five questions deep matter? And you think about it. If you have this gravitas, if you have this presence, when you walk into a room and someone disagrees with you or challenges you, you’re not shaken by that. You go ahead. I may not know it all. Tell me what do you see that I don’t see? I think that’s the strength. We’ve talked about strengths and struggles of these three components. The strength of having gravitas is an air of confidence. It’s really twofold, it’s how you see yourself. As I see myself, I have that leader mindset. I am the leader here. I’m coming into the room and I know my stuff, but I don’t know everything. And I’m okay with that.

But the second part is how others will see me as that, wow, he or she really has an air of confidence about them. But they believe what they’re doing. I think the struggle is if you can develop an arrogance about it. If you’re the boss and everyone better know that, I’m the boss and you better know that, that you have that forced to gravitas that you put on people. Your ego’s involved, maybe you see it come out negatively in bully tendencies where you might try to walk or talk over. Try to blame others, it’s a very ugly side of having that presence. It doesn’t really doesn’t help your influence at all.

Chris Goede:     When you think about this gravitas to your point and things that you should be working on. This whole value other people’s input point of view. You don’t need to come across as the smartest person in the room. Here’s what I was thinking about as you were talking. And I was filtering some of my thoughts, Jason Grant, one of our team members here works with a lot of organizations. I hear him use this example all the time, which is there’s really two types of leaders. One where he or she walks into the room and you know that they’re the smartest person in the room or he or she walks in the room, they leave. They made you feel like the smartest person in the room. And it’s back to that quiet confidence. When you think about that, that second example is a leader that has gravitas. They’re very confident. They have that quiet confidence. They know their stuff. If they were to ask some questions, they could probably have the ability to turn that answer into a question, to learn more about your perspective, your point of view, and they listen to others. I think those are a couple of things that I think about when we begin to work on how do we become more, have more executive presence. And then obviously around this area of the gravitas.

Perry Holley:    Yep. The second area that is brought up is about communication that people can tell your leadership mindset, through your communication, your executive presence. This is really make or break our executive presence. I found that once you open your mouth, we often give away how we see ourselves. Do you see yourself as a leader? Do you see yourself as an individual contributor? Are you taking a back seat? Are you in the front seat? Are you concise and compelling in your communication? Or the opposite of that, do you talk too much? Or you don’t say much of value, you’re just talking for no reason. Can you be assertive without being harsh? Are you passive or indecisive? There’s a balance in here about being assertive without hurting someone else, about walking over people. But you also don’t want to be passive or indecisive that executive presence shows up there.

Are you respectful of other people, especially if you disagree with them, can you still be respectful or do you confront others as one of your defense mechanisms? I think, really this area of communication revealed itself very quickly in an exchange with someone is that you come across how you see yourself, go back to that gravitas that I’m five questions deep. I have confidence and I value you and it’s okay for you to know something I don’t know. And I’m going to communicate in a way that is compelling and concise.Chris Goede:     Yeah. I think in leaders that I feel have that executive presence, the things that I’ve seen is that man, they’re great listeners. Here’s one thing when I think about this and listening is that people can be in a room with hundreds of people, but man, when they make you feel like you’re the only person in that room having that conversation that type of listing skills of leaders that I’ve been around that have this ability of communication. They also know how, and I think John does this really well and you and I had the opportunity to be in a meeting this morning with John was on there. Man, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They communicate with humor, a lot of times self-deprecating. It’s not about a humor at somebody else’s expense. Matter of fact, I love that you have referenced in a previous podcast that we did. Alan Mulally talking about one of his rules of their organization was at Ford and at Boeing, was we never, ever as a team member make a joke or laugh at somebody else’s expense, but they had the ability to make people laugh, not at other people’s expense.

I think John does that so well. The other thing, matter of fact, Mark, our CEO was talking about as we were wrapping up that meeting and I think this goes right into to this communication piece, to where we were talking about the weight and being the steward of some of John’s leadership abilities and principles. And we were talking about his ability when he’s speaking to go into any room and communicate to that audience, no matter the industry, the demographic, it doesn’t matter. When you’re able to communicate like that, I think that’s a skillset that man, you would really want to develop as a leader.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, for sure. It just shows itself really quickly when you open your mouth. The third area of executive presence is appearance. I will tell you that they rated the three Sylvia Ann Hewlett teaches, gravitas is number one, communication is number two, executive presence is the least important of the three. However, it’s the first thing that people see and it can affect the first impression people have about you. Before I say more on this one, what do you think a leader looks like?

Chris Goede:     As far as I’m concerned they can’t see us today, we’re on Zoom, by the way. Just being very cautious coming back from the holidays and doing social distancing. But if you could see the two guys on camera right now, as well as Jake, our producer that right there would tell you exactly what a good leader looks like.

Perry Holley:    Tall, fit and handsome.

Chris Goede:     That’s it.

Perry Holley:    No, that’s not it. Executive presence has nothing to do with being tall, fit and handsome. Actually she uses in her book, she says, “It’s not the a six four guy from central casting.” Appearance, when it comes to executive presence and how you see yourself as a leader is more about grooming and polish and how do you carry yourself? Do you dress appropriately for the role? You don’t have to be wearing expensive suits and designer shoes, but have you taken the time to groom yourself, polish yourself and carry yourself well? Do you still try and look like one of the team members, trying to be cool or are inappropriately dressed for the audience that you’re with or do you dress appropriately for the role? It’s a fine line. I think people often think you need to look a certain way, but no. I love this one actually, because it says that you can carry yourself in a way that that shows that you see yourself as a leader and it will help others to see you as a leader.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. John talks about the hardest person to lead is yourself, always will be. You got to figure out how to lead yourself. And he teaches that you must first connect with yourself before you can connect with others. I think what we’re really talking about today with this executive presence and you talking about these three areas as I wrap up with gravitas, communication and appearance. Here’s the interesting paradigm shift today, hopefully for our listeners is we often think about executive presence or I did initially, is that how other people see you. Now, this last point that we just talked about when we talked about appearance, that it has some of that visual from other people see of you, but really what we do, we want you to take away from today is that it starts with yourself.

It starts with how you see yourself, your quiet confidence, how you carry yourself through that process, how you communicate and connect with people. As you begin to think about this and people say, man, he or she needs a little bit more executive presence. I think Perry and I would challenge you today and say, do you view that in yourself? That has to start internally first. It starts with you in order for you to have that mindset before it will become obvious to other people. And remember, we don’t look at each other and say, look at Perry, he’s got gravitas, he’s got great communication skills, appearance. And so he’s got executive presence. No, it’s something that people just kind of noticed, feel and understand about you that just happens because it all started with the inside first.

Perry Holley:    That’s right. Well said, thank you very much. And thank you all for joining us. If you want more on The 5 Levels or about this topic, you can find all that on the learner guide for this one as well at You can also leave a comment for us there. We love hearing from you, and we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us each week. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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