PMI Bangalore Chapter

PM Guest Article March 2021

What makes an Executive Stand out

Gurpreet Khandpur

Gurpreet is a Program Director at Mindtree. She has extensive experience in delivering several key projects in the Digital technologies space. She has worked for companies like Kyocera Wireless, Delphi Automotive, and Wipro.

What comes to your mind when I mention the word “Executive” – a person with a crisp business suit, scholarly stance, a laptop or a dairy in hand perhaps, and a cool, very clear style of communication as well? All checked, and more. We have tons of material on how a leader should be and behave. Very little is said on how to conduct yourself as a pedigree executive leader though. It is assumed that one just evolves into the “Executive Presence”. While that’s partly true, most part of being an Executive is meticulous inculcation of tidy habits. These leaders learn not just through soft skill training but through plenty of mistakes and painful experiences. It takes a whole lot of maturity to get into the skin of a well-poised leader. Let’s unravel some of the constructs through a very humane angle here.

Sensory Presence

When people meet, the first exchange is to take stock of each other’s looks. The human mind begins building prejudice on what it sees. The tone of your greeting and the handshake further add to this prejudice. It is not without reason that a “Formal Dress-code” or “Power Dressing” is prescribed to keep such prejudice at a minimum. Think Sheryl Sandberg and you’ll immediately know what I am talking about. Let’s admit, distractions derail discussions. Unless of course, that is the very intent.

Emotional Intelligence

This is a vastly handled topic. But touching upon some indispensable executive traits:

Audience Preparation:

A good practice of some of the well-networked leaders is to know their audience at a human level. Their preparation includes look-up on LinkedIn or noting tiny details from past conversations. The very first icebreaker of a greeting is a chance to show your interest in the other party. This applies not just in Business meetings, but also during co-workers or staff meetings.

Control on Emotions:

Whether it is anger, frustration, joy, shock, or even humor – none of these emotions should override. An Executive Leader is a human given to weaknesses too. However, the fact that they do not forget that their presence is constantly under public scrutiny is a sign of maturity. This is easier said than done. But the more control you see, the more an Executive Leader is seasoned.

Bias:

Executives often check their actions and playback conversations to figure out if a bias did take place in the decision or discussion. Most executives stop right in their tracks when they realize that this emotion is at play and messing with their minds. It takes a lot of self-study to identify this important weakness that can damage any situation.

Moral Dilemma:

A good leader cannot avoid taking sides if a moral situation presents itself. One needs to stand up for the righteous cause.

A fantastic case in point is that of Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox until 2016, who had a lot of learning in Emotion Management when she became an executive. It’s worth spending some time learning about her journey.

Wisdom

When Executives talk, people sit back and listen. And the words are not hard to remember – being few but heavy-weight. Remember the Steve Jobs speeches. So little was said, yet he was the master orator – the greatest we have seen! The key to his immense oratory success was to pick the most important part of what he wanted to say, work on various styles of presenting it, and then choosing the best. This followed by back-breaking preparation.

While Executives do not talk much, they do listen a lot. They churn the information with facts and figures with plenty of careful notes. Unless they are sure, they make no commitment.

Above all, the hygiene factor is that they know their business to the deepest detail. Think Jeff Bezos, the nerd CEO who knows his code as well as his business.

Authority

A well-grounded Executive doesn’t have to tell that she is the boss. It just exuberates. Authority is a double-edged sword for a Leader. They cannot have consensus in view of wider business goals, neither can they have a dictatorial style that suppresses good inputs from coming to them. A leader who listens, understands, and digests the information without bias, will be able to make a well-informed and calculated decision. One important aspect which Executives must deal with a lot is – politics. It is extremely important that they separate out the message from the noise. This requires a lot of focus and tact. Being in a higher position should not obliterate the vision. Hence good Executive Leaders connect with their subordinates, peers, and network in order to know all-around aspects before making decisions. However, an Executive Leader is and should be the ultimate decision-maker.

An interesting study on this topic on medium.com states why Larry Page and Jeff Bezos do not endorse “Consensus-Based Decision Making”.

Final words, “All of us fall and learn. Leaders learn better with every failure. And Executive Leaders make this learning seem like an effortless art, a cut above the rest”.