Executive Presence: Commanding the Room with the “5 C’s”



ExecutivePresenceExecutive presence is a quality we see and feel when we look at leaders whom we admire. We all want to know who is in charge (especially when we believe it is ourselves), and to feel the confidence and comfort a great leader seems to have and to instill. Some people appear to exude executive presence naturally (remember the kids who took charge in elementary school?), while others exude it awkwardly.

Executive presence is important for all of us who lead or aspire to lead. This presence helps engender trust and confidence and provides us with opportunities to influence and set the tone for the organization to achieve competitive advantage. Whether selling to customers, gaining buy-in from internal stakeholders, or winning support from the Board, executive presence carries tremendous weight. Whatever this hard to describe “it” factor is, others draw conclusions about our abilities and our potential based on whether or not we are seen as having “it”—executive presence.


Has anyone ever mentioned (perhaps even gently) that you need to come across more like an executive? Here are some simple questions to ask yourself to determine if you probably should focus on building your executive presence:

  • Do people take notice when you enter the room?
  • Do others listen intently when you speak?
  • Do you consistently influence the outcome of conversations?

If your answer is “no” or “I don’t know” to one or more of these questions, we suggest you invest further effort in strengthening your executive presence.


Our Parrish Partners definition of executive presence is “the ability to command the room and influence others in a variety of situations.” We recognize it when we see it, but executive presence is a quality that is at least partially in the eye of the beholder and frequently without universal agreement. For example, our favorite leader or politician tends to exhibit executive presence to our way of seeing and thinking, while our least favorite ones probably do not—but others may not agree!

THE 5 C’s

To help you strengthen your executive presence, and target improvement areas, we offer the “5 C’s” of executive presence:

  1. Competence – This is obviously a huge factor in gaining the respect of others. Competence is usually developed through training and years of practice, although some individuals seem to have a knack for demonstrating competence early. When we believe someone is competent, we believe she or he “knows what they are doing,” and can add high value to the team and to the mission.
  2. Confidence – A confident person inspires confidence within us. Most athletic coaches and effective leaders help us believe that we can be and do more—sometimes even more than we originally thought possible. We can be coached and trained to project confidence, through public speaking classes, acting lessons or other means; but ideally, our inner core of confidence grows as we learn more and accomplish more. Celebrate your successes, work to diminish perfectionistic striving, accept praise and collect self-affirmations that speak to you.
  3. Comfort – By comfort, we are referring not only to your internal comfort, but also to your abilities to foster comfort in those around you. How you dress, carry yourself and talk to people can help them feel good about themselves in your presence. Humility and authenticity go a long way in helping people feel comfortable with you.
  4. Connection – To influence you must be able to connect with your audience, your team, and whoever you are with. Focusing on the other person more than on yourself facilitates strong development of rapport and trust. Empathy and open dialog result from this kind of foundation. We are not inclined to connect and “open up” with someone who seems more interested in themselves than in us.
  5. Composure – Being able to think on your feet and respond well in stressful situations while maintaining some degree of calmness conveys appealing strength and courage. Composure requires the discipline to self-assure and to offer assurance, encouragement and support to others. If you are composed, you can serve as a strong role model and also have a calming effect on others.


No one can impress everyone all the time; but, if this brief process has helped you identify gaps or improvement needs, we encourage you to dig deeper. If you believe deep-down that you need to be more executive-like, there are things you can do.

Start with deeper thinking and assessing of yourself and of your impact (the right coach or mentor can be very helpful in this regard). Invite more ongoing feedback, crystallize what areas of executive presence need your attention and build a plan of action. Then, get on with it! (Remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and a process of continual learning and improvement—not a quick fix!)

Demonstrating the 5 C’s of executive presence can carry a great deal of weight when others think about us and consider us for key assignments and promotability. When we are viewed as having executive presence, we are likely to also be considered as having growth potential.

© Copyright Michele Parrish, 2016.  Editorial Contributions by Norm Lanier, Ph.D.