Case Study 5

Developing C-Suite Caliber Executive Presence

(Note: Names and other identifiers were changed to protect the confidentiality of my client.)

As the Director of Client Relations for a major USA-based government contractor, Jennifer oversees nearly 100 direct reports located both stateside and overseas. She is expected to show poise and grace while dealing across the global business cultural spectrum – and when interacting top-to-bottom within her company hierarchy.

Because Jennifer’s company valued her as one of their highest potential talents, they invested in coaching to help strengthen her soft skills and overall executive presence. The goal was to prepare her for greater responsibility as a senior executive. At that level every aspect of her brand will be under constant scrutiny. She will be held to an impeccable standard as a role model. Her communication will have to be clear, focused, and succinct. Most of all, her team leadership style will need to be not only decisive and bold but also sensitive, inclusive, and inspiring.

Two of the steps in my Predictable Promotion™ system (“Communicating with Impact” and “Developing A Charismatic Executive Presence”) address those particular leadership assets. Jennifer and her HR department agreed with my conclusion that these were the main areas we should concentrate on during our sessions.

A Common Dilemma

Jennifer had been somewhat frustrated, as many high potentials are, because her bosses rarely gave her anything but vague guidance. She knew they wanted her to develop in different areas of her leadership and to gain certain skills. But they did not say exactly what those were. In my experience that scenario is far too common. The good news is that a qualified and experience leadership development coach knows how to illuminate one’s shortcomings while simultaneously providing empathic support and practical tips and advice.

Laying the Foundation 

The first thing I did with Jennifer, for example, was a thorough professional assessment. From the start she had a clear, positive, forward-looking blueprint to success – and a way to measure progress and keep me accountable as her coach. I saw to it that Jennifer knew her problem areas, but did it in an encouraging way. As she became more aware of perceived weaknesses she also become stronger, more well-rounded, and more confident. That’s because I coupled my observations with individualized solutions tailored to her unique needs and goals.

Decoding the Unwritten Rules 

As I explained to Jennifer, there are unwritten, unspoken rules of corporate culture – especially when you ascend to the rarified echelons that lead into the C-suite and board room. Nobody tells you about them, despite the fact that they expect you to know them and exemplify them in your words, behavior, dress, and attitude. Jennifer I began addressing those by focusing on her presentation skills. She learned how to deliver a persuasive and convincing message in the short, distilled manner that busy senior executives demand. We also trained her to handle difficult, sometimes unanticipated questions from those powerful people. Now she gives self-assured responses and does not have to worry about simply reacting off-the-cuff without a real strategy.

Emphasizing Soft Skills

But executive presence also requires mingling with colleagues in informal or more casual settings in a manner that will convey your human side. Jennifer learned to finesse those kinds of communications and to also give consistently appropriate recognition, acknowledgement, praise, and encouragement to keep her team members and reports inspired and engaged. She is a natural leader, and by giving her a fine-tuned repertoire of verbal and nonverbal soft skills she became a more effective, well-respected, and much-liked leader as well. As I taught her how to find her own voice and style, Jennifer also learned to distinguish between the different communication styles used by senior leaders. Observing those differences she began to flexibly adapt her own methods of communicating to better suit the individual and situation, and that increased her effectiveness.

Bolstering Key Partnerships/Relationships

As our coaching work progressed Jennifer made greater inroads with strategic partners, built more meaningful relationships with team members and reports, and felt more comfortable and influential interacting with senior level executives. They all noticed her enhanced ability to create instant but genuine rapport, and we leveraged that into a revamped personal brand that heightened and amplified her corporate and industry-wide visibility. Since Jennifer travels internationally, we also worked on ways to exude her leadership charisma while working remotely. Now she can showcase her brand and maintain her executive presence even when working from a distance and using tools such as teleconferencing and Skype. Jennifer instituted a new personal habit, too, of consciously and publicly celebrating the success markers of her employees and teams.

Tangible Results

With that added encouragement fueling them, Jennifer’s teams starting to give her their best efforts – which showed up on performance reports. She then championed them and their value-add up the corporate ladder, using her newly-acquired communication skills. Her reports appreciated that and rewarded her personal involvement in their careers with loyalty and hard work. Her bosses, on the other hand, began to seek her out and solicit her ideas, especially in terms of how to critique and elevate less productive employees without inadvertently aliening them.  Meanwhile her superiors viewed that skill as a sign of Jennifer’s leadership maturity and top HR execs saw her ability to develop raw talent from within the company as a golden asset. Today she is a changed person with a potent executive presence and professional brand. Jennifer is a great  example of someone who went from uncertainty about her future to taking the reins as the CEO of her own career destiny.

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