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Your executive presence opens the door to greater leadership responsibilities, according to Joe Scherrer.

George Washington had it.

So did Abraham Lincoln, Vince Lombardi, and countless leaders over the centuries.

It’s the elusive secret of successful leadership. Leaders with presence radiate a magnetic effect that comes from being authentic and inspires people to trust them.

Leaders with presence have the intellectual and emotional depth, psychological strength, and interpersonal credibility to get their point across, inspire confidence, generate teamwork, and create results when the going gets tough.

And, if you have “it,” your executive presence opens the door to greater leadership responsibilities.

CIOs can—and ought to—cultivate executive presence because such leaders with presence continually inspire. They make their teams feel like their contributions are important and valued.

"Executive presence signals to others that you have what it takes and are capable of taking on the tough job of senior leadership in a demanding role."


CIOs with presence possess poise, a calm demeanor, confidence, and polish. Initially, these qualities cause people to notice that there is something different about that you. Over the long term, presence reveals itself in the way in which you make others feel significant and how your actions align with their values. Your unquestionable expertise and track record of results and the skillful way in which they use their power and influence also contribute to your presence.

As a result, you generate an unmistakable gravitas that is motivational, results-producing, and excellence sustaining.

Fortunately, you can build your executive presence by increasing your self-awareness, working toward self-mastery, communicating well, and presenting a professional appearance.

The Foundation of Executive Presence: Self-Awareness

As the Greek philosopher Socrates once observed, “The unexamined life is not worth living." As a CIO, the day-to-day grind of dealing with a thousand different problems seems to leave little time for introspection. Nonetheless, it’s essential if you want to develop your presence.

Increasing your self-awareness requires you to make the effort to understand who you are, your purpose, and why you think and act in the way you do. As you work at it, you will uncover new layers of personal insight that allows you to free yourself from irrational fears, pave the way for inner wholeness, and form the foundation of your executive presence.

Achieving deep, comprehensive self-awareness is not an overnight process, but the effort is well worth the reward. In my coaching practice, I use a self-awareness framework that involves fourteen elements. Each contributes an aspect of understanding that allows further growth, development, and progress toward self-mastery:

  1. Innate personality: The characteristic patterns of your thinking, feeling, and behaving.
  1. Motivators: The psychological drives that impel you to action.
  1. Cognitive intelligence (IQ): ability to reason, to build logical arguments from sensory evidence, to solve puzzles and problems, to "make sense" of the universe.
  1. Emotional intelligence (EQ): The aspect of ourselves that enables us to make our way successfully in the world in terms of our relationships with others.
  1. Blind spots: Aspects of your personality or your behavior—usually negative—in which you remain stubbornly rigid in your attitudes, views, and actions.
  1. Biases: Built-in problem-solving routines that inhibit judgment and decision making.
  1. Dominant patterns: Filters you use to process information and make decisions.
  1. Moral beliefs and ethical code: What you stand for in terms of right and wrong (morality) and how you enact those beliefs in your daily leadership walk (ethics).
  1. Passions: Those feelings that give you effortless energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment.
  1. Limiting distortions: Automatic thought patterns that distort your view of yourself or the situation you face.
  1. Professional skills: The sum of your education, training, and experience that you apply to your leadership role.
  1. Resilience: Your ability to sustain high-level performance under stress.
  1. Capacity for service: The degree to which you place your talents and skills, whether large or small, in the service of others.
  1. Personal mission statement: Captures your purpose, your vision, who you want to become, and what you intend to accomplish.

Building Your Executive Presence

Once you expand your self-awareness, there are three key components to increasing your executive presence: achieving self-mastery, communicating well, and presenting yourself professionally.

1. Achieve Self-Mastery

Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” His wisdom still holds true today. How many leaders have you worked for who lacked self-mastery? How about you?

For CIOs, mastery of technology ought to come naturally, but the mastery I’m talking about relates directly to who you are as a person. For those willing to take up the challenge, self-mastery requires a commitment to growth, and the discomfort that comes with change. The objective is to replace habits that limit growth and instead create new habits that support your mission.

As you conduct yourself in your leadership responsibilities, it’s critical to tap into your core values that motivate you most and move you toward the vision of who you want to be. Those values also enable you to refuse to identify with the thoughts that undermine your self-concept. Even as you exercise self-control, realize that you don’t control the reactions and behavior of others.

From self-mastery flows a certain confidence, authenticity, and ‘grace under pressure’ that exemplify some of the qualities that make you attractive as a leader.

2. Communicate Well

Part and parcel of executive presence is the ability to communicate well. Think of great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King and the ability they had to move millions with their words. Now it’s not likely that you’ll achieve that same virtuosity, but you can improve your ability to communicate well.

The ramifications for a CIO who communicates effectively are legion. Productivity, quality, timeliness, results, morale—all depend on your ability to communicate well. Not only that, communicating well enables you to connect at more fundamental, human level with your boss, peers, the team, customers, and suppliers.

The most important component of “presence-based” communication is to listen—really listen—in the moment and without judgment. Equally as important, remember that as leader, you’re always communicating, whether or not you’re speaking. Ensure your words align with your actions and your values. Seek to communicate empathetically by understanding and appreciating the other person’s situation or feelings, then communicate that understanding back to the person in a meaningful way. Remember to monitor body language—both yours and theirs—in order to help you establish and maintain rapport.

From an organizational standpoint, champion open dialogue within your team and your organization. When speaking or writing, connect with your audience, and tell them stories that elicit emotions, including yours. Communicate in a language everyone can easily understand and deliver the message with sincerity and conviction.

3. Dress Professionally

In this day and age of business casual and comfort dressing—and IT workers are at the forefront in this regard—few realize that it only takes a quarter of a second for someone to size you up in terms of your competence, likability, and trustworthiness. This occurs before words are spoken. Like it or not, people judge you automatically on your appearance and consequently, and as someone who works in the C-suite, a CIO is not exempt from such judgments. Therefore, your appearance is a central component of your executive presence.

This doesn’t mean that you need to pursue the latest fashion or dress like a movie star. In fact, that would be detrimental to your executive presence. The overall objective is to dress in a way that enhances your professional appearance and—most importantly—aligns with the authentic you.

The essence of dressing well means that your individuality is expressed in a way that communicates confidence and congruence. Thus, your appearance shows that you’re comfortable in your own skin—and clothes. As a result, people will be more disposed to make a positive initial judgment about your competence and respond positively to you because they recognize your authenticity.

Executive Presence—Your IT Leadership Edge

With executive presence, your chances of arriving at (and staying in) the C-suite as a CIO are enhanced. With presence, you demonstrate to others that you’re the real deal. As a precondition of extended success, it signals to others that you have what it takes and are capable of taking on the tough job of senior leadership in a demanding role.

Although building your executive presence is not an overnight process, you can increase it. Commit to deepening your self-awareness, achieving self-mastery, communicating well, and dressing professionally and you’ll be well on your way.

So here’s the challenge for you: What is one thing you can do today—right now—to build your executive presence?

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