Practicing Mindfulness to Enhance Executive Presence
I can remember when I first made the connection between mindfulness and executive presence. At that point, I was fairly new to mindfulness practice. I was meeting with a leader of a company I was working with. We met in her office and not a conference room, which would have been preferable. Throughout our time together, we were constantly interrupted by people popping their heads in for “just a quick question”, the phone, personal texts, etc. And she was eating her lunch at her desk while all this was going on. I remember leaving her office, thinking if she even knew what she ate for lunch, as that is how distracted she was. After the meeting, I remember thinking that she was not present for our conversation, as if she did not value her own time as well as mine. I also came away feeling disrespected and undervalued.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is paying attention – on purpose – with intention and no judgment. It is about being present with full attention paid to a person, object, or literally anything that you are doing. Executive presence, on the other hand, is how you show up at work – how you act, speak, and look.
Without self-awareness of how we present ourselves to others, it is near impossible to possess executive presence.
Communication is an integral part of executive presence, and mindful communication is the cornerstone of leadership. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Listening with intention shows that you care, and people respond best to leaders who are empathetic. Listening also helps improve social awareness; this is how we are able to understand other people’s moods, behaviors, and motives. Mindful speaking – that is – choosing words carefully, using “I” statements, and avoiding ambiguous language, can have a positive impact in influencing, decision-making, and managing – all traits that are found in executive presence.
Here are some ways that paying attention through mindfulness can enhance your executive presence:
1. Self-talk. Notice if your internal dialogue is positive and affirming, or negative. Change your internal soundtrack so that what comes out of your mouth conveys and reflects confidence and enthusiasm.
2. Body language. Your posture and stance influences critically important first impressions. Notice how you are standing. Is it straight and confident, or hunched over? Are your arms folded across your body, or placed boldly on your hips? The messages you send with your stance conveys your energy and comfort levels.
3. Listening. People feel more collaborative when they are listened to and teams where everyone is encouraged to speak are the most effective. Think about your own listening style. Do you listen without interrupting? How often are you distracted by your phone or email while someone is speaking? Don’t give away your power by not listening fully. Powerful listeners make the very best leaders.
4. Empathy. Research shows that leaders need empathy in order to show their followers that they care for their needs and their achievement (Bass, 1985). Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence, which is critical to be an effective, authentic leader. When we develop compassion for ourselves through mindfulness, it more easily extends to others.
5. Thoughts. Being in the moment can help mitigate mindlessly acting on our thoughts. When we take a pause and notice our thoughts, we realize that we can find more solutions than we originally were able to see. This influences our decision-making, a critical component of executive presence. The pause is the practice. When thoughts arise, ask yourself, “Is this true? Are there other ways of looking at this?” You will be amazed at what you can discover.
Executive presence requires awareness, and mindfulness is the practice of self and social awareness. We create our executive presence by developing competencies, focusing on how we perceive our own emotions to stay flexible and positive, and managing social interactions to better understand others.