A Nova Guide To Executive Presence: Self Confidence

One of the biggest barriers facing women leaders today is a perceived lack of “executive presence.” This phrase is often used – and often misunderstood, even by the people using it! Intelligent, capable and talented women are being held back in their careers because they don’t meet an ambiguous standard for what an executive should look like. Over the course of our nine week executive presence series, Kathleen, Lisa and Priscilla will be sharing nine traits that every woman can develop to improve her executive presence and bring value to the organization.

I have the privilege of working with some amazing women. Women who are accomplished professionals, who are passionate about life and passionate about making an impact. Despite all their accomplishments, some of these women have a complete lack self-confidence. You would never know it on the outside, and these women have developed amazing coping skills, but the calm, cool and collected demeanor on the outside is in stark contrast to the nagging self-doubt and constant questioning within.

Why is this? And why is it so much more prevalent for women than men? That, friends, is a whole other topic of expectations and socialization. In the meantime, let’s look at some ways to get past that demon of self-doubt.

Change your self-talk. I can say with 100% certainty that you are your own worst critic, bar none. Yes, it’s good to have high standards and yes, you should keep reaching for the stars, just not at the expense of your own ego! Instead of identifying the ten things that went wrong in a meeting or a conversation, train your mind to recognize what went right. You nailed the opening. You had your content down pat. You answered tricky questions without getting flustered. You had just the data you needed at your fingertips. Once you begin to recognize what’s working – even if it’s a small list to start – you will establish new mental pathways to identify success. After success. After success.

Track your wins. Similar to the above, my guess is that you tend to focus on what didn’t go well. Instead of obsessing over all the things you could have done differently, write down the things that went well. I had a client who even categorized this list: things that went well in presentations; in meetings with her boss; in interactions with the media and external stakeholders, etc. Each of these lists grew and became her starting place when heading into new situations. Instead of projecting things that could go wrong in a new encounter, she’d look at her track record of wins to remind herself that she could – and DID – do this with ease. Want to start winning? Keep a scorecard!

Know your stuff. I’d like to believe this one goes without saying – but here’s the twist: know and practice your stuff. I’ve seen too many executives, confident that they know their material and their audience, not adequately prepare for a presentation or interaction. The higher the stakes, the more prep you need. Serena Williams didn’t win 23 Grand Slam singles titles by showing up and playing on game day. There are countless hours of practice in that powerful swing. Day after day after day of perfecting that iconic serve. The appearance of effortlessness requires effort! And discipline. Know your craft inside and out. Nothing exudes confidence like competence.

Remember the basics. Sometimes, you really do have to practice the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality. Express yourself with confidence. Walk and communicate with purpose. Speak clearly and directly to your audience, whether one on one or in a group. Make eye contact. Remember your mom’s advice and keep your shoulders back, head high and sit or stand with authority. Don’t shrink into the corner. Stay engaged, and ask relevant questions. Your presence and participation should always be a net add to the outcome.

Finally, face your fears. You have to put yourself out there to build confidence. You have to walk into that scary meeting or meet with that outspoken and opinionated leader. Yes, there are times you will fall flat on your face. And when that happens, take stock of what you’ve learned – and what you won’t do next time. Train your mind to identify what worked – and replicate that next time.

Self-confidence is a tricky beast. But here’s the great news: YOU and only you hold the key to unlock your potential; to change your self-perception and the perceptions of others. Go get ‘em tiger!!

Tina Schweiger