PMI Bangalore Chapter

PM Guest Article March 2021

Is Executive Presence – on your critical path?

Cherian Kuruvilla (CK)

Cherian is an ex CEO – Bharati Airtel and has over 40 years of overall leadership experience. He is currently a Business Mentor – Leadership, Executive & Holistic Personal Coach/ OD & Strategic Leadership facilitator /Panel Member/ Speaker/ Writer

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We have all come across executives who over the course of their careers have reached their respective positions in their organizations. Yet, only some of them seem to carry themselves like Executives ought to. Have you wondered what makes us revere some of them, while others seem to get under our skin from the word go, and still others are respected only because of their position? It could have been anyone else in that position for all you know, and you wouldn’t have noticed any difference.

So what makes one leader or entrepreneur stand out from the crowd over the years?.

Executive presence is perceived differently by different people. To some it is the aura, to others, it is the Emotional Intelligence, or the communication style, or even the attire (power dressing). To still others, it is the confidence, the quiet authority, while there are others who think it is the compelling power of a leader who carries himself or herself with elan.

However, here’s what has resonated with my audiences whenever I’ve attempted to summarize Executive Presence. It’s when “Your Absence is felt as much as your Presence”.

All this in the moment when they are living it.

Here are a few critical factors that count in establishing your Executive Presence.

  • Do people remember your interactions for how good you made them feel?
  • Have you left a legacy behind wherever you spent time at work? As an example which of your previous leaders do you look back to – with respect – even after many years? How do your ex-colleagues or teammates remember you? In my video (link below) I give an example you may like to hear!
  • If your colleagues or team were to pick a role model leader, would you be in the race?
  • What do they say about you behind your back? How different is it with what they say in front of you? Are you aware if there is a difference? What they say behind your back – is your Personal brand.

Do you treat everyone with respect or is it only those who matter for your selfish needs?

  • Do you listen patiently and with empathy or only want your voice to be heard because of your seniority or authority?
  • Do you say or do things without being sensitive to the audience?
  • Does being a subject matter expert in your field necessarily translate to creating the right perceptions that finally matter in career or business growth? In my experience, just being a Subject Matter Expert or a Tech or functional wizard does not translate to having an executive presence. You may get respect for your knowledge only. This is another example I see ever so often. People reach senior roles because of their functional expertise, but miss out on cultivating the aura or communication style that is so vital to growth. Many aren’t so ‘lucky’ and even miss out on senior roles because of this shortcoming.
  • Another area where leaders often miss out is Networking. It’s a quiet way of being seen, noticed, and stand out from the crowd to create the right impression. Expecting your work alone to talk for itself often does not work. It is very important to project your team and their achievements in multiple forums.
  • Do you unknowingly sabotage yourself with your behavior, style, etiquette, or reactions especially when under pressure?
  • And finally appearance. Does the size of your wardrobe, the cars you drive, the money power you try to transmit count as much as your humility?
  • Fancy dressing does not create an image. Choosing the most appropriate attire for the occasion gives the right impression of not being too casual or not caring about the context. This is more relevant now than ever before – in a virtual world.


Yet Appearance comes lower down in the hierarchy as described below.

Executive Presence is about being there in the moment, being genuine, being authentic, sensitive, consistent, being who you are.. and NOT about the mask you put on for the external world.  Will you please all? Certainly not. Do you need to? Definitely not.

What does that mean? Executive Presence is not an act!

Your Executive Presence and personal brand is what you make, hone, and sustain over the years.  It is not something driven by some quick fix social media burst. It is not a mask you can wear and take off at will. As Coaches working with senior leaders and entrepreneurs, we see how so many of them lose out on this due to their own self-image or self-awareness gaps. And it’s so easy to fix and make it life-changing 🙂

Make your Presence and Absence count.

Here’s a video on the same topic. I’d urge you to watch and list down 3 takeaways that will help you develop your executive presence.