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What Executive Presence Really Means.

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Recently, I pressed the manager of a client of mine as to why she wasn’t advancing into the C-Suite.

She’s qualified. 

She’s a hard worker. 

She’s been with the company for a long time.What gives?

When I pushed for an answer, executive presence was mentioned.  When I pushed for specifics, it came down to appearance.

Was it that she wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough or dressed up enough?


What she meant by appearance is that when she walks into the room, nobody feels her power. 

She walks in as though she doesn’t fit or belong, like she doesn’t believe she’s a natural in the head seat. It wasn’t an issue of wearing a suit or not, dying your hair or not, losing weight or not. 

It was about how her internal state exuded into her physicality and produced a weak sense of presence that didn’t match the job description. 

Plain and simple.

And that counts for a lot when you expect people to follow you, when you expect the big bucks, when you expect to put COO on your resume.

Author Sylvia Ann Hewlett speaks to this in her three pillars of executive presence.

  1. Gravitas: the confidence and ownership exuded in demeanor
  2. Communication: the ability to speak with confidence and conciseness
  3. Appearance: the noticeable poise and authority presented through physicality


Her third point can easily be misconstrued as feedback purely on aesthetics which makes it a touchy subject. The current conversation around appearance is pretty red hot.

I shouldn’t be judged on what I wear! I’ll show up however I want! It’s not the outsides that count!

And I’m with you, but there’s something to be said for why we don’t show up to a date wearing pajamas, how you wouldn’t likely want the head of the company in old Uggs and how you expect the teller at the bank to own a comb. 

The real point I’m getting at is how appearance is a non-negotiable element of executive presence.

It’s how you carry yourself. It’s how you sit in seats of power. It’s how authoritative you are without saying a word.

It’s an energy. It’s carried in body language. It’s largely unspoken.

The next time something like, “You just need to be a bit more confident” comes up in your feedback, read between the lines and dig a little deeper.

Don’t be afraid to ask if what your boss is really getting at is ownership over your physical power.

If it is, what do you need to do on the inside and outside to exert energy like an executive?

As an Executive Coach, I can help you stand up and stand out. Book a FREE 30-minute coaching consultation with me today.

Pooja Dang is a Women’s Executive Leadership Coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area, serving clients globally at companies such as Google, GoPro, Dropbox, and more. With over 15 years of experience in coaching, advising, and propelling women towards rapid career advancement and promotion, she specializes in high-impact workshops and dynamic 1:1 coaching, delivering breakthrough outcomes and accelerated change. Pooja has a proven track record of coaching women into the C-suite and is a trusted expert in growing executive presence, expanding influence, high-stakes negotiations, and leadership development. Using proven scientific strategies, transformative behavior tools, and a no-BS approach, Pooja is on a mission to empower more women to live confidently at the top of their game. Book your free consultation today. #ExecutiveCoach #LeadershipDevelopment #WomenInLeadership #BehaviorChange #CsuiteCoaching


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