Recently, the Wall Street Journal held a CIO networking event where CIOs talked about moving up the ladder into the corner office. It’s logical that if technology is the future, a CIO’s deep knowledge of technology will help organizations succeed in a world dominated by big data, cloud storage and social media. Yet, technical skills alone are not enough.
In my experience as an executive coach, it takes much more than tech savvy to rise to the highest ranks of the organization.
I work with CIOs, CFOs, cyber security mangers, engineers, scientists, physicians and finance executives. Some have recently been promoted, or have excellent technical skills, but still lack leadership qualities that will push them ahead. What’s missing might be described by a supervisor as either lack of confidence or lack of what we call “emotional intelligence.”
As I have written about previously, executives who make it to the top have a unique combination of self-awareness, self-restraint and social skills that I call emotional intelligence. But even that is not enough these days.
Developing Strong Presence Two Ways
Another set of skills that need development and strengthening could be called "executive presence." What are the signs of weak executive presence? When a client defers to their bosses too much either by looking down at their notes, or not making eye contact; when presentation skills fall short or when someone has a slouching posture—these all put you at a disadvantage.
These may seem like small shortcomings, but they are very important if you want to move ahead. One of the best executive coaches I know Jeff Kaplan, writes that: “Executive Presence is about being present with your audience, whether that's one person or a room of 1,000... It's about how you "present" yourself regardless of whether you're giving a formal presentation, participating in an executive team meeting, or talking to one person at the water cooler.”
Fundamentally, it is about truly being “in the moment” with others. In our multitasking, mobile-device filled business world, this is increasingly difficult. To improve in this area, two key ingredients are required. First, you must be absolutely fully prepared regardless of whether you're giving a presentation to clients or having a quick conversation with your boss on the phone. When you're fully prepared, you can then deeply listen to what others are saying without worrying about what they're thinking of you or what great wisdom you want to say next. You’ll be relaxed, connected to your breath (instead of cut off from your breath due to anxiety or disorganization), and able to pick up nuances from what others say and how they say it.
The second key ingredient is that you must be fully present, completely engaged in the moment and not "in your head" with thought -- such as judging the person or audience you're speaking to, or wondering what your audience is thinking about you or what you're going to make for dinner.
When people are fully present, creativity flows, new ideas emerge, awareness gets deepened, and problems get solved.
By contrast, if someone is unprepared, in their head, or pushing through a pre-set agenda, there is no room for the creative thoughts.”
Beyond having confidence in your ideas, executive presence also means dressing the part, knowing how to hold an audience’s attention, having confidence in who you are and what you believe in, having excellent social skills, knowing when to show self restraint and being organizationally savvy. Surprisingly, these are things that can be taught-- even if initially, the new behaviors feel artificial. Many a TED talk focuses on powerful behavior and how “fake it until you make it or become it.”
Executive presence is hard to describe, yet easy to spot. Most importantly, it’s vital for CIOs and others who aspire to lead and to succeed.