How to get what Zuckerberg's got

Executive presence is about self-confidence and building trust

Ah, Mark Zuckerberg: the brainchild behind the product that everyone wishes they created. When you think of an inspirational leader, Mark Zuckerberg is probably not the first person who comes to mind. He's not the best speaker, wears t-shirts no matter the occasion and gives mediocre interviews.

As a result, many leadership articles and blogs criticize his appearance and behavior. But whether you believe it or not, Zuckerberg, in his own way, exhibits an executive presence.

Surprised by that statement? Well, I can understand why. If you're not familiar with the term "executive presence," it is a way to define the interpersonal skills that can contribute to success in a leadership role. Some say to have executive presence you must be decisive and assertive, can communicate clearly and concisely, and have a polished persona.

Others say that it is less about poise and sophistication and more about the ability to present intelligence and passion for your role and the company. I see both sides of the debate, and I personally believe that when it comes right down to it, executive presence is about self-confidence and building trust in others.

The reason I used Zuckerberg as an example: Even though he comes off as a scruffy college kid, he obviously had enough confidence in himself and the product to become one of the world's youngest billionaires.

I'm not saying that you should follow Zuckerberg's lead in the clothing department. Obviously, you need to dress in a way that is appropriate for your company's culture. But being a leader is not all about a fancy suit and the ability to captivate an audience with a plate full of jargon.

The most successful leaders are confident in their own vision and are able to gain the trust of clients, colleagues and direct reports. After all, a major key in inspiring others to follow your lead largely depends upon whether or not you are a person perceived to be reliable and trustworthy.

Whether you are a manager looking to join the upper management ranks, or you have your eyes on the top leadership position, remember that those with an executive presence come in all different shapes and sizes. No matter your leadership style, and whether you are an extrovert or introvert, you can develop an executive presence. Here are some tips to get you started:

Clear thinking. One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is to set standards for performance. Your expectation for others to perform at high levels should be matched by your own example. Effective leaders understand how the organization works and are able to use their political savvy to manage any sources of resistance to accomplishing tasks.

Manage relationships. Identify people who may not have the formal power but who are the "go-to" people to get anything accomplished. Make sure they are on your side before you move too far into a change initiative. Expand your circle with people in other units or locations; attend their functions and get to know them personally. Then, when you need to work with someone in that unit, you will already have contacts, and this should help your work go much more smoothly.

Involve others. Your planning ability is greatly enhanced when you involve others in the process. By encouraging others to participate, you elicit more creative and innovative ideas for solving problems; with more ideas, you find the best solutions. Teams often make better decisions than any single person.

Gather feedback. Collect feedback from those around you, and use the feedback to clarify goals and track progress toward goals. Take the time to evaluate the information and consider specific actions for improvement.

Communicate effectively. Make sure your oral and written communications are clear and easily understood. Projects will move quicker when you set and communicate goals that are meaningful to others, as well as linked to the objectives of the organization.

Developing an executive presence won't happen overnight. But with a little dedication on your part, your direct reports, colleagues and supervisors may view you in a different light.

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives