Do You Have What it Takes to Lead? Read Executive Presence and Find Out


To make your mark on the world, you'll need Executive Presence, a classic leadership book that outlines research with hundreds of executives who reveal what it takes to be a successful leader.

executive presence

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Ever wonder what magical pixie dust has some folks move up the leadership ladder and others fizzle on the sidelines?

Sylvia Ann Hewlett (@SAHewlett) calls it Executive Presence and has just sent me a review copy of a book Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success that will demystify the overlooked trait that’s essential to climbing the career ladder.

While Executive Presence won’t earn you a promotion, not having executive presence will certainly hold you back from achieving your leadership goals.

Executive Presence; When You Got It, You’re Good

After all the talk about leadership being something you can learn instead of something that you’re born with, Sylvia Ann Hewlett tells it like we all know it is.  There is something special that you have to have in order to make it.  Some folks have it in spades and don’t appear to work at it, while the rest of us have to learn and earn the privilege of Executive Presence.

Even the author didn’t have Executive Presence when she first got started in her academic and professional career.  Want proof?  Read the introduction and her story about the Oxford interview and her “fox collar” suit.

So what is Executive Presence (EP)?  Hewlett says it’s three things:

  1. Gravitas (How you act.)
  2. Communication (How you speak.)
  3. Appearance (How you look.)

This isn’t surprising since it’s what your mom has been telling you since you were old enough to go out in public.

What might surprise you is that you don’t need to have all of these elements in equal measure:

  • Gravitas is the most important with 67% of the executives surveyed say that it matters most.
  • Communication comes in at 28%.
  • Appearance comes in at 5%.

In the overall scheme of leadership, it’s the man or woman with this magical combination of confidence, poise and authenticity.

Seven Steps to Executive Presence

The book is organized into seven simple chapters that will lead the reader on the journey toward building up their Executive Presence:

  • Chapter 1: What is Executive Presence
  • Chapter 2: Gravitas
  • Chapter 3: Communication
  • Chapter 4: Appearance
  • Chapter 5: Feedback Failures
  • Chapter 6: Walking the Tightrope
  • Chapter 7: Authenticity vs Conformity

Each chapter contains specific examples from well known companies, brands and people that you’ve watched on the news and as Hewlett recounts the events inside the context of Executive Presence light bulbs are sure to go off in your head, like they did in mine.

While some leaders look like they are born with Executive Presence, the research Hewlett has done shows that most of these successful leaders were hewn by their own experiences and efforts.  And since gravitas is the most important element of Executive Presence, here are a few of the action items Hewlett recommends:

  • Surround yourself by people who are better than you.
  • Be generous with credit.
  • Stick to what you know.
  • Show humility.
  • Smile.
  • Empower others presence to build your own.
  • Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
  • Drive change rather than be changed.

For each suggestion, Hewlett gives inspiring examples that will have you looking for opportunities to increase your gravitas and power-lift your own presence.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is Executive Presence Personified

My favorite aspect of this book is the honesty, forthrightness and humility with which Hewlett shares her own personal experiences with Executive Presence (and lack thereof).  From the opening pages of the book and her story of the foiled Oxford interview, to her ultimate success as a professor, author and expert who has appeared on countless shows, Hewlett molds a story that incorporates her research as well as her personal experiences in a way that leaves you feeling inspired and motivated.

Sylvia is the founding president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a Manhattan-based think-tank focused on helping companies and professionals to fully realize their talent potential.  She is the author of several acclaimed books and has appeared on Oprah, The View, 60 Minutes and many others.

Executive Presence Joins the Ranks of Classic Business Books

When I first started reading this book, I couldn’t help but make the comparison to other leadership classics like Emotional Intelligence.  And as I read further, I could see that EQ was an integral part of EP as well.

Executive Presence isn’t just a leadership or management book. I can see it becoming a classic and one that is required reading for business students as well as entrepreneurs, small business owners and corporate employees.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."