Your executive presence–how you consciously and unconsciously communicate your competence to others–is critical to your career. Unfortunately, although others’ opinions of your presence are what matter, you’ll rarely get feedback about how your bosses, peers, or customers see you. To make matters worse, as I mentioned in my last post, executive presence expectations are highly subjective and unwritten. As a result, you don’t know what others want from your presence and aren’t told when you fail to meet their expectations or how you might improve.

This failure to receive constructive executive presence feedback is common because it tends to be some of the most difficult feedback for managers to give.

  • It just feels wrong. Most organizations use skills-based assessments to objectively judge employee performance, and talking about some elements of executive presence strays from this practice. Your manager probably would feel comfortable noting that your presentations lack a clear message but might hesitate to criticize your demeanor or the tone of your voice—elements of who you are as a person, not a professional. They’ll feel on even shakier ground saying anything about your wardrobe choices, and HR regulations might prohibit them from doing so. 
  • It’s embarrassing.  Executive presence feedback touches on very personal issues and risks discomfort for the transmitter and the receiver. Most people don’t like embarrassing others and certainly don’t want to be embarrassed, so staying silent about presence shortcomings becomes easier than tackling them, particularly when the feedback relates to appearance or other personal issues. It’s obviously easier to tell someone they have a writing problem than to point out they have chronic bad breath.

To make matters worse, in those rare occasions where you do get feedback, it’s usually too vague to be actionable. I’ve watched managers knock an applicant’s executive presence in a job interview and then fail to offer any specifics about what was lacking. Everyone seems to know when they see good or bad presence, but they often can’t translate it into useful guidance for those falling short. I frequently have students take my executive presence seminar because their boss told them to “work on their presence” without offering any details about what their weaknesses are or how to fix them. That’s not very helpful feedback, yet it’s what most people receive when they get any at all.

What does this catch-22 regarding executive presence feedback mean for you?  It forces you to be proactive in finding out if you’re meeting others’ expectations and to determine what specifically you must do to improve. In my Proficiency1 online, self-paced course, Mastering the Unwritten Rules of Executive Presence: How to Construct a Confident, Captivating Professional Persona, I provide a strategy for acquiring the feedback you need to strengthen your presence and address deficiencies that might be holding your career back right now without you even knowing it. Take control of your presence and your career today!

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