The Importance of Executive Presence

When I was in my first year at McKinsey, one of my Engagement Managers gave me some feedback.

He said, "You're smart, you've got the analytics, but you come across like you're young and inexperienced."

My response was, "Well... that's because I AM young and inexperienced!"

He said, "That's irrelevant."

"Rather than think of yourself as having only 6 months of working experience, advising clients with 35 years experience, think of yourself as the client's point of contact to the full resources of McKinsey and... ACT accordingly."

With his coaching, I eventually did.

Many years later, I discovered the term used to describe what my Engagement Manager was attempting to teach me.

Some call it "executive presence."

Others call it "gravitas" -- a Roman concept related to expressing dignity, seriousness, or importance.

It's a useful trait to embody and exude as a leader or aspiring leader of others.

When you have gravitas, you get taken seriously.

When you have gravitas, your opinions and insights are respected and sought after.

When you have gravitas, everybody in the room looks to you after a heated debate to eagerly anticipate what you think.

When you have gravitas, your presence and thoughts are DEEPLY respected.

It is what a McKinsey Director often exudes that a first year consultant does not -- even though both may be equally intelligent and analytically-skilled.

You do not need to be extroverted, charming, or charismatic to have gravitas. It is separate from all of those other traits.

While gravitas to some extent does improve with work experience and escalating levels of job responsibility, the big opportunity is to intentionally develop gravitas EARLY in your career.

When you do, it's an enormous career advantage -- especially relative to your same-aged peers.

For example, I've known a quiet, shy, introverted 23-year-old software developer with gravitas.

(When he spoke, the CEO took notes. THAT is gravitas.)

After much coaching from my old McKinsey Engagement Manager, I too developed gravitas.

It is a way of being... a presence... a way to "own" the room during a meeting, regardless of your title or tenure.

When I speak to a roomful of CEOs, at some point most of them pull out a piece of paper and start taking notes. While that is partly a function of my experience and age, that used to happen in my mid-twenties as well.

At the time, I didn't understand WHY that was happening. With the passing years, I've been looking back and deconstructing what exactly comprises gravitas.

I will be writing a series of articles on this topic, and if there's sufficient interest, I may teach a class on the topic as well.

If you'd like to receive these articles, and to express interest in and be notified about any future class on gravitas, just complete the form below.

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2 comments… add one
  • Samir Dec 10, 2015, 9:32 am

    Great topic to explore. The president (of course, former McK alum) of my company also stresses Executive Presence with his “favored few”. As I’m former military, the notion of gravitas is critical to leadership.

  • Marcelo Dec 10, 2015, 10:07 am

    Hi Victor,

    It is the first time I hear about gravitas. Could you recommend a couple of nooks to read about the subject?

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