from my perspective…
Establishing an Executive Presence and Building Positive Relationships By Linda Jimenez
Chief Diversity Officer and Staff Vice President—Diversity & Inclusion WellPoint, Inc.
Diversity involves working within the world of human interactions and relationships. At WellPoint, much of our culture is built upon the concept of “Be Here Now,” emphasizing that the key to establishing “executive presence” is through the management of how one acts and interacts with others at work, both professionally and personally. WellPoint recently hosted an informal after-school reception for the students and parents of our new mentoring program for ninth graders. One young man, 14, arrived after track practice, still dressed in his uniform. He seemed shy as he spent some time mingling and snacking with his fellow classmates. As we engaged him in conversation, he carried himself with an air of energy and confidence, and spoke as if he had anticipated every question. His answers were clear, concise, and delivered with conviction and without hesitation. His responses to challenging questions were strong: “I can” or “I will” or “I am sure.” Executive presence? He definitely had it—I wanted to hire him on the spot! On the flip side, I have recently worked with adult professionals engaged in very important initiatives where there were opportunities to engage and motivate others. Some of these individuals were slouching in their seats, yawning and talking with their hands covering their mouths. Their communication style was often handled through simple emails, so they did not engage in conversation or dialogue freely, passionately, or enthusiastically. Of course, we have all been there; at the end of a long day filled with issues and problems, overloaded by emails and voicemails, and overwhelmed with projects. Sometimes, this may cause us to simply forget or lose sight that our behavior and attitudes leave lasting impressions on others. The perceptions that others have of us can hinder or hurt our careers. Executive presence is not a quality with which most individuals are born. The majority of individuals who have executive presence have developed a clearer understanding that everything they do or say communicates volumes about who they are, and these individuals have taken control of the signals they send. All of us have the opportunity to work on developing a strong executive presence. 12
Profiles in Diversit y Journal
Think of someone you know and admire, or focus on a relationship that matters to you at home or at work. Write down the qualities that give this person “executive presence.” Is it the way they walk into a room, deliver a presentation, or speak to people personally or by phone? Some of the qualities that you will consistently find among individuals who have a strong executive presence are: Carry Yourself with Confidence. How an individual presents physically, or comports themselves, conveys great meaning. One should sit, stand, move, and gesture with purpose. Body language, posture, gestures, facial expressions, and movement convey energy, vitality, and confidence. Act with Authenticity. When an individual shows up genuinely and honestly, it lays the foundation for bringing one’s whole self to the table. Acting with authenticity means being courageous while remaining vulnerable, speaking truthfully while remaining tactful, and providing constructive feedback while accepting the opinions of others. Listen Well. In today’s world of constant distractions from email, phone, BlackBerry devices, texts, and instant messaging, individuals who truly listen do stand out. They make others feel valued, important, and heard. Dress As If Image Matters. It may seem unfair, but an individual’s physical appearance speaks volumes about their “executive presence.” You may think things like clothing, grooming, hairstyles, jewelry, or makeup shouldn’t matter, but—welcome to the real world—they do matter! Communicate Well. It is crucial to communicate the substance of what you know effectively. Individuals with a strong executive presence almost always speak clearly, succinctly, powerfully and with conviction. Individuals with “executive presence” use all aspects of their voice to sell their ideas and generate enthusiasm. Others are inspired to follow the leadership of those with executive presence. PDJ
Linda Jimenez is a native of San Antonio, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received her B.A. with honors. She is also a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and has spent 20 years specializing in labor and employment law.