“Let your light so shine before men….”
Those who have read one or more of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s previously published books (notably When the Bough Breaks, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets, and Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor) already know that she is among the most intelligent, sensitive, intuitive, and practical business thinkers within subject areas that range from talent evaluation to organizational transformation. Her focus in her latest book, Executive Presence, is of special interest to me because, for more than 30 years, I have worked with corporate clients to help accelerate the development of talent needed at all levels and in all areas of their operations. I am already well aware of the importance of what she characterizes as the three pillars of executive presence (EP):
o How you act (gravitas)
o How you speak (communication)
o How you look (appearance)
Fair or not, more often than not, candidates for a position who have less merit but greater EP have a decisive competitive advantage over candidates with greater merit but lesser EP. “The amazing thing about EP is that it’s a precondition for success whether you’re a cellist, a salesperson, or a Wall Street banker.” Hewlett wrote this book to help her readers “crack the EP code.” Although doing so “can be onerous and sometimes eats into your soul, this work and these struggles will allow you to flower and flourish. Once you’ve demonstrated that you know how to stand with the crowd, you get to strut your stuff and stand apart. It turns out that becoming a leader and doing something amazing with your life hinges on what makes you different, not what makes you the same as everyone else.”
I agree while presuming to add that many people (I among them) have never been comfortable with developing EP. In fact, as Hewlett explains in her exceptionally interesting Prologue, she had the same problem while attempting to gain admission to “Oxbridge” (she was accepted by Cambridge) and later when she began her first job as an assistant professor of economics at Barnard College. Over time, both she and I have learned how to present ourselves more effectively. If we can develop some EP, almost anyone else can…if doing so serves their purposes. Hermits have no need for EP.
Clearly, Hewlett agrees with Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” The self-development program she recommends in this book can help a person to reveal more effectively who they genuinely are and suggest who they can become. Authentic (key word) qualities of character connote gravitas, “that weightiness or heft that marks you as worth following into the fire. Gravitas is the very essence of FP. Without it, you simply won’t be perceived as a leader, no matter what your title or level of authority, no matter how well you dress or speak. Gravitas, according to 62 percent of the leaders we [at the Center for Talent Innovation in NYC that she founded] surveyed, is what signals to the world that you’re made of the right stuff and can be trusted with serious responsibility.”
With all due respect to the power of charisma, some of the most evil leaders throughout history possessed it, as did some of the most highly-principled leaders. Frankly, I’ve always thought that charisma resembles an expensive fragrance: it smells great but don’t drink it. There can be no authentic EP without gravitas but that is only one of the three “pillars.” Hewlett also explains how to communicate much more effectively, to become more presentable, and in this instance I am again reminded of a Passage in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” I’m sure that many agnostics and atheists see the need to increase their EP.
Brilliantly, Hewlett explains both how and why.
These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of her coverage.
o Cracking the EP Code (Pages 5-10)
o The Right Stuff (15-18)
o Speaking Truth to Power (25-27)
o How to Deepen Your Gravitas (39-44)
o Command a Room (54-60)
o How to Polish our Communication Skills (74-77)
o Enhancing Appearance: Tactics (100-105)
o Difficult Conversations — But Extraordinarily Important (111-113)
o Tactics: How to Get the EP Feedback You Need (116-122)
o A Narrow Band of Acceptability (128-131)
o Gravitas (138-142)
o Bleached-Out Professionals (149-156)
o Tactics: Authenticity vs. Conformity (158-164)
o Understand the Diversity Dividend (165-167)
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is convinced (and I agree) that ordinary mortals can crack the EP code and master the skills that will “let their light shine before men.” That light will be powered by gravitas. Also, she urges her reader to be reasonable about making whatever changes in attitude and behavior may be necessary to increase EP. Being yourself can be both good news and bad news. What’s the point of continuing to be an authentic jerk? A constant whiner?
And I presume to add one more point: Developing EP is a never-ending process, not an ultimate destination. (Hewlett calls it a “journey.”) Be flexible, be resilient…and above all else, be patient but committed. Bon voyage!