Everyone has their own perception of what Executive Presence is. Maybe it comes from images in the media of slick CEO’s with their thousand dollar suits and perfectly polished shoes. Maybe it comes from years of watching Hollywood’s affectation of what an executive looks, sounds and acts like that makes us want to emulate that image. We have this picture in our minds of what it is to be a successful executive and then tend to evaluate ourselves and others using that lense. But is that authentic? Is that a realistic approach? Recently, while creating a workshop on executive presence for women with my partners at Working Improv, I was reminded of my friend Sarah.
Sarah, is a smart and successful career coach. When she started out, she set up her very polished and professional website, got the obligatory head shots of herself in a dark suit with a crisp white shirt and began to market herself. Very soon she realized that the clients she was attracting were not the clients she had a passion for helping and her business just wasn’t clicking. Why? Because she was not being authentic to her true personality. She is really a bit of a quirky rebel at heart and the highly corporate brand that she had carefully constructed left no room for her true spirit.
So, she did some soul searching and started over. She created a brand that was still polished but it was authentic to her. (www.careergasm.com) Suddenly, she was connecting with great clients who were loving her approach and professional guidance despite the fact that she had replaced the suit with a more playful and colourful wardrobe. Prospective clients saw that she was a little quirky but they also saw that she was confident in herself and her abilities. It didn’t matter that her preferred stationary often included polka dots and she occasionally rocked a pair of cupcake earrings, she still had polish and credibility. She had found the balance between expectation and authenticity. Today she is getting great referral business, is a regular contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine and is being tapped as an expert in her field. Authenticity for the win!
Finding the balance isn’t always easy and there is no set in stone answer to the question “How much me can I be?” The key is to not lose sight of your goals while still being true to you. Find ways to let the unique essence of you come through in the way you present yourself while still being aware of the expected norms. I work in a creative industry so I have a little more flexibility, people expect me to have some flair to my style both physical and personality. That said I still need to know my audience and make adjustments accordingly.
"inauthentic leaders tend to be less productive and to experience higher rates of burnout." ~ Entrepreneur.com
It’s about being confident in who you are and what you have to offer while recognising that you still need to get through the door. You need to be in the moment, assessing the situation and finding that balance. If things aren’t working, don’t be afraid to make a change. The goal is to find that sweet spot where you feel that you are being true to you while still creating opportunities to advance on your chosen path.
Kimberly Beaune, CMP, CSEP
Kimberly is a veteran of the Special Events Industry and has lead teams in creating award winning events, developing strong client relationships and consistently exceeding sales targets. She owns and operates Creative Twist Inc. a successful event production and design firm, and is a partner in Working Improv a top rated leadership training organization. Kimberly is also VP Membership for the International Special Events Society Toronto Chapter.