“I know it when I see it” was how United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart responded in explaining his threshold test for obscenity in film making (aka Pornography).

This is apt when we speak about an ‘X’ factor that we all have. That combination of equipoise, confidence, charm and the way we lead ourselves and others as well. This ‘X’ factor is executive presence.

In a piece published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” A University of London researcher working with a sample of one thousand, reports that people shown silent videos of pianists performing in international competitions picked out the winners more often than those who could also hear the sound track. The study concluded that the best predictor of success on the competition circuit was whether a pianist could communicate passion through body language and facial expression.

Befuddled, don’t be! Help is at hand.

As a leader, when you get to be good at your domain, that will only ensure you get a seat the business table. Whether you can stay there and progress further is largely determined by executive presence. The way you look (appearance), the way you speak (communication) and the way you act (gravitas) is one way to make sense of this. Interestingly, out of these – the way you act carries 67% weightage with communication at 28% and appearance accounting only for 5 %.


We all have met leaders who are extremely competent, but lack warmth and the ability to foster kinship, drive consensus and inspire people (competent jerks). At the other polar opposite of this spectrum are leaders who generate a great feeling of trust, psychological safety and warmth, but sadly lack competence (lovable fool). That sweet spot when leaders can combine the two – that’s great executive presence.


There is a fallacy that great communicators are great talkers, well, that’s not quite the complete picture. While they could be great speakers, you will find them to quite strategic in the way they express themselves. Purposeful, impactful and quiet confidence makes them great listeners as well. They will be able to communicate through their body language, tonality of their words, pitch and cadence that will make their presence felt in any conversation.


There is something to be said about “looking the part”. The first sense that someone gets is our “physicality” the way we carry ourselves. How do we dress etc. This does not mean “fashion glossies” kind of a look. We need to be aware of what works for us, the message we want to communicate and make our appearance work for us to communicate the same.

Story telling is an important aspect where the ability to “read the room” becomes very important. Leaders need to double down on creating and narrating to make an impact and inspire followers to behave differently.

In a virtual world, some of the rules of engaging have changed and they may last till the near future (considering a hybrid working environment). The modes of interaction and influence can be classified under “lean” and “rich” environments.

Virtual Work Environment

Email, chats, work groups etc., are lean environments – the pre-pandemic rules still apply. An employee on an average gets over a hundred email every day. Your messages may need to stick out and avoid vague non specific requests and replies. Being decisive and “showing teeth” is extremely important both in verbal and written communication. Please ensure grammatical errors and typos don’t creep in, this is equivalent to landing at a senior leadership meeting with mustard on your tie or broccoli stuck in your teeth.


It is a rich medium as there is ample opportunity to embellish your leadership brand. Dress professionally (however tempting lounging around in your pj’s may be). Please understand the world may be little forgiving in these times, but there is a limit to that. Simple rule of thumb – If you have doubt about your appearance on video – err on the side of caution. Be connected – even when the urge to multitask creeps in (glancing at the mobile, for instance) don’t! People can immediately sense your disconnection. Look into the camera as often as possible, Try to drop in earlier, it will give you a sense of familiarity and enable you have a non formal conversation that will ease you to segue into the main conversation. “Yes, and” is a beautiful improve technique that works wonders as against the often used “yes, but”. It is very tempting to rubbish someone’s idea. A better way would be to use what they have said, acknowledge that and build on it.

Book A Call Today

Schedule a 15 minute free session with Coach Jay Kumar to understand how we can work together and awaken the leader in you.