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Executive Presence and how HR leaders can master it

How can HR leaders increase their personal influence to help them get noticed and bring about positive change? One solution is to mindfully work on developing their executive presence.

By Mamta Sharma

Business stakeholders are constantly judging and forming opinions based on HR stereotypes. In other words, they’re creating your reputation!

It has become necessary for HR leaders today to rise to the challenge and further strengthen their role beyond the decisionmaking process to managing relationships and increasingly influencing the management. And for this to happen, HR leaders have to stand out as trailblazers, change agents, and leaders who create the future.

“This is why HR leaders need to mindfully work on developing their executive presence and increase their personal influence. It is this combination that

will help them get noticed and bring about positive change. Also , when HR leaders leverage their executive presence they are signalling their readiness for the next level,” says Vikram, executive, leadership and career development coach at Coach Vikram which offers specialised coaching around CXO advisory, partner promotion, executive transition, startup founders and CEO coaching among others.

What is executive presence?

Vikram defines executive presence as the balance of the behaviours of focus, power, and warmth. These behaviours can be learned and can be switched on and off by choice to bring out your best self and influence people.

Leadership and executive presence - the crucial difference

While leadership is the ability to influence, executive presence is what helps you influence with ease.

“In fact, leaders already emanate leadership qualities. Their presence enables them to expand their spheres of influence, accelerate business results, and stand out,” says Vikram, who has worked with organisations like Aditya Birla Group, Asian Paints, Avendus, Bank Of America, BCG, Capgemini, DBS, DE Shaw, Google, HDFC Life, J.P.Morgan, KPMG, McKinsey, Lightspeed India Partners, Nomura, PwC and VISA among others.

The key components of executive presence for HR leaders

The influence of HR function with management and top leadership is rising. An efficient HR leader goes well beyond good communication and organising skills. Executive presence helps talented HR leaders to have meaningful influence with the top ranks.

Vikram says to achieve this influence with ease, HR leaders have to use all the nine key components or characteristics of executive presence - Relationship Mindset, Social Awareness, Personal Magnetism, Inner Dialogue, Composure, Personal Brand, Gratitude, Self-Care, and Compassion.

While leadership is the ability to influence, executive presence is what helps you influence with ease

“As an HR leader, when they balance all these nine components they communicate with likeability, credibility, and trust,” he adds.

Augmenting executive presence for HR leaders in their everyday work

Vikram suggests three actions steps HR leaders can put into practice immediately to work on their executive presence: 1. Go out and know more people in your organisation. Engaging in not just transactional HR conversations but also meaningful conversations that build relationships. 2. Gather a lot of information on matters related to your field. A broader knowledge base and expertise will help you display more authority and gravitas and your stakeholders will start taking you more seriously. 3. Make time for yourself and open up about your vulnerabilities so that you can build trust.

It’s all right if you are not the smartest person in the room.

Common barriers leaders face when influencing – and solutions to setting the right tone

Vikram lists a series common leadership barriers that dilute a leader's presence and influence: • Every meeting with them is like a transaction-driven conversation. • They often carry emotions from their previous meetings to the next. • Engage in conversations that might be a little too focused on themselves, their work, and their experiences. • They don’t step into power and dream big or play big. • They surround themselves with people who do not inspire. • They are not comfortable making a powerful impression. • They have a limited view of HR influence on the organisation. • They are uncomfortable with vulnerability. • They do not give people the benefit of the doubt easily.

So what are the solutions to these?

Firstly, leaders should have clarity about meeting outcomes. At the same time, they must make an effort to connect with people through common topics even beyond work.

Before their next meeting, they should take some time to prepare and freshen themselves. Having that extra energy will help them to be more socially aware and navigate the dynamics in the room during their next meeting.

In the meeting itself, they

Deserving a seat at the table and building value in a discussion is a mindset

should be mindful to speak and express ideas succinctly, so as to come across as composed and credible. This increased confidence and clarity, will inspire greater support from stakeholders.

When talking to others, leaders should mindfully shift the spotlight to the other person and let them share while the leader listens. They should create positive momentum and rapport to see early wins.

The company one keeps is critical. Leaders should surround themselves with people who are better than them. They need to recognise their own weaknesses, so that they can have people in their team who will complement their strengths. And they need to be positive – to start looking for what is working out rather than what is not working out, so as to better appreciate the support of those around them.

HR leaders need to allow themselves to dream big and play the game joyfully. Deserving a seat at the table and building value in a discussion is a mindset!

Developing and sustaining a powerful personal brand

Branding helps leaders with increased leadership visibility and brand recall.

“And expanding your spheres of visibility and recall, helps you to gain credibility and inspire action. This then results in you influencing with ease for greater success,” says Vikram, suggesting some easy ways one can sustain a personal brand and put themselves in a position to win: • Set aside time to work on new skills. You may want to use this time to work on developing your subject matter expertise. • Build strong networks with your senior leaders to build effective partnerships across the organisation. Make a list of your top five key sponsors and have monthly or quarterly touch points with them. • Spend time building effective external alliances. Make time to expand your professional and personal networks outside of your organisation. • Purposefully design your digital footprint to stand out. For a start, leverage social media to connect with leaders from other organisations.

As work and the workplace continues to evolve, we must constantly look ahead for the challenges and opportunities of the future

It's the perpetual question: what lies ahead of us? And it has been all the more relevant to the world of work in recent years, as digitalisation, the pandemic, changing employee expectations, and economic uncertainty combine to open up more and more questions about how organisations should operate. Here are just a few:

On one end of the spectrum, there are changes in the physical office as employers overhaul their layouts for greater flexibility in the hybrid model – building in areas specifically designed for physical collaboration, adding the capacity for virtual meetings, and so on. Some have shifted from a single centralised office to multiple small satellites more accessible to a distributed workforce; others have embraced remote working to the extent of completely eliminating office space. What might the next setup look like?

Alongside the flexible work trend are technological developments, with digitalisation first driving huge changes in processes and then slowing as organisations settled into consolidation mode. Automation, workflow tools, and virtual collaboration tools have already entrenched themselves, and some, more advanced organisations are looking into the possibilities of next-generation technologies such as the metaverse.

With or without technology, processes and working arrangements have had to change. Leadership styles are evolving and leaders are called upon to demonstrate competencies – such as empathy, communication, agility – which might have been a lower priority before. The way teams are managed has shifted greatly, away from the old belief in command and control and to a more collaborative, people-centric approach, requiring managers to reskill and upskill. The war for talent has pushed organisations to offer a greater degree of flexibility in working times, locations, and even part-time arrangements.

And around all of these, regulation and legislation are evolving: industry bodies, national governments, and international governance bodies are slowly but surely developing frameworks to direct and shape how organisations interact with employees in the new world of work.

With all this said, it's still hard to tell how much of a change will come to pass in the long term. Even as progressive organisations embraced the leap forward that resulted from the pandemic, just as many have been looking forward to going back to prepandemic ways. Two and a half years simply may not have been long enough to shift mindsets, expectations, and ways of working.

This month, our cover story brings forward perspectives and reactions to some of the changes in the world of work: today's trends and what outcome they may lead to, how organisations are moving forward and where they see themselves in five, ten, twenty years' time. Ultimately, the future of work is shaped by what employers do today.