Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Executive Presence from the lens of an engineer

Recently an experienced friend recommended me to read "Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success" by Silvia Ann Hewlett. I just finished reading it few days ago, and while some of the strategies in the book are universally applicable, I believe most of the advice does not apply in today's technology scene with exception of several industry giants. Since my career aspirations are to stay in startup or at most midsize company environment and create great things, instead of worrying about raising the career ladder some of the best advice won't apply, ever.

The main areas the books suggests to work on, summarized in one of Amazon review are:

• Gravitas (How you act) - you can master it, get a sponsor, hire an executive coach
• Communication (How you speak) - seek for feedback, record yourself and listen to you speak, hire a speech consultant
• Appearance (How you look) - lose weight if you are overweight, wear makeup if you are a woman, and dress for the position you want, not the one you have now

The most important aspect of one's EP is the gravitas - how you can take charge of your audience and keep people engaged. How you can change your actions and communication to portray more confidence, such as standing tall, using wide gestures, getting rid of your foreign accent (unless it is British).

Regarding the communication skills, best advice in the book is to improve public speaking skills, and get rid of empty phrases, e.g. "like", "just", "i mean". This reminds me of a great article on the word just in particular. Apparently best advice for women's career success on appearance is to wear high hills, always look polished, lose excess weight and wear makeup to look credible. Doesn't it sound sexist?

Examples in this book and most of similar leadership books are mid-level managers in large corporations, and based on the context I found myself thinking that for successful career these people don't need to perform actual work as much, but smile wide for the right audiences and mingle with the right people.

One of the key words was getting a sponsor in the company to help you grow, sponsor is your superior in the company who has an interest in seeing you succeed. I am pretty sure going to somebody and asking "Would you be my sponsor?" will not work too well, and have no clue, but would very much like to learn, how you actually get one.

The most amusing part of the read is the advice to ask your management to pay for your leadership coach, I can see me trying to explain this to manager, and his confused face trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with me.

So hereby I present my plan of action, a takeaway:

  1. Improve my accent, take a class or use a recorder
  2. Actively seek for public speaking opportunities
  3. Proactively ask for constructive feedback after presentations and speeches (and always)
  4. Wear a lot of makeup (just kidding)

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