Genuine Executive Presence: How leaders of color can overcome corporate cultural challenges

Genuine Executive Presence: How leaders of color can overcome corporate cultural challenges


Research published in the Harvard Business Review confirms what many leading people of color already knew. They are, unfortunately, at a disadvantage within the Caucasian-dominated workplace.

A Double Standard?

A majority of minority professionals, for example, feel that they are held to a stricter standard than their Caucasian peers when it comes to executive presence. The feedback they receive regarding how to look and sound like a leader also tends to be vague and not particularly helpful. These are just some of the insights from a report from the Center for Talent Innovation titled “Cracking the Code: Executive Presence and Multicultural Professionals.”

Authenticity is the Key to Executive Presence

The good news is that forward-thinking corporations recognize this problem and are taking proactive steps to address it within their culture. Meanwhile executive presence, while sometimes difficult to define, is a learned attribute that once gained is instantly recognizable. I find that it can’t be faked. It must come from a genuine, authentic identification with your personal core values. Once you connect at that level it comes natural, as you showcase those in such a way that it positively resonates with your organization’s own brand and image.

Leveling the Playing Field

Those who exhibit this kind of presence display a special leadership charisma that may appear magical. But it is based on practical skills that can be trained, practiced, and developed. Let’s face it. Nobody is born with an ease of public speaking or an innate capacity for maintaining poise and grace under pressure. That’s because executive presence is about gravitas, persuasiveness, and an external look or visible brand and image that conveys credibility and trustworthiness. How you project those desirable leadership qualities all comes down to what I call the ABC’s of appearance, behavior, and verbal/nonverbal communication. Those are executive skill sets virtually any high potential leader can acquire.

Learn how to manage the details – and the mindset necessary to support powerfully influential and inspirational leadership – and you will crack that unwritten code. Then you will be in a position to write your own leadership legacy for others to follow.

(To view the findings of this interesting think tank report, visit


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Sarah Hathorn is a leadership development mentor, executive presence coach, image and branding consultant, public speaker & author. She is the founding CEO of her own successful company, Illustra Consulting, and the creator of the proprietary Predictable Promotion™ System.

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Copyright © 2014, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

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