Sylvia Ann Hewlett, “Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success”




Reviewed by Femflection

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the founding president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a Manhattan-based think tank where she chairs a task force of eighty-two multinational companies focused on fully realising the new streams of labor in the global marketplace.

Back Cover Summary:

This book is immensely practical. Hewlett teases out tactics that can help you raise your game and close the gap between merit and success. The author offers the unvarnished advice you won’t get from supportive friends and tackles head-on such touchy subjects as too-tight clothing and too-shrill voices. She shows how the standards for EP vary for men, women, multicultural, and LGBT employees, and she shares how to get meaningful feedback from politically correct bosses intent on avoiding the real issues.

Executive Presence is teachable. You can learn how to “show teeth” while remaining likable, and you can teach yourself how to dress appropriately while staying true to yourself. With hard facts and vivid examples, Hewlett shows you how to ace EP and fully realize your unique potential—no matter who you are, no matter where you work.

Some “Executive Presence” quotes:

  • “how you act (gravitas), how you speak (communication), and how you look (appearance) count for a lot in determining your leadership presence.”
  • “It is executive presence—and no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal. It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be.”
  • “In this regard, professionals of color may hold an edge. In focus groups we conducted, countless participants confirmed that being a minority is itself a relentless exercise in reading others in order to anticipate and overcome reflexive bias or unconscious resistance.”
  • “It is executive presence—and no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal.”
  • “When companies and leaders know how to harness and leverage gender, generation, ethnicity, race, culture, and nationality, there is a significant impact on the bottom line.” 
  • “There are simple rules of engagement: You need to have your voice, but it has to be very intentional – be brief and 
  • to the point, with fresh ideas. Don’t restate things someone else has said. Make eye contact with the person who has the floor.”
  • “There are three pillars, regardless of your work culture, whether you’re in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street: how you look, how you speak, and how you behave. It’s all three things, and nailing them makes you a contender.”
  • “Women have made enormous progress on the lower and middle rungs of the career ladder, but we are failing to make the leap into senior positions. Everyone jumps to the conclusion that it’s motherhood that holds women back, but often the big roadblock is the lack of executive presence.”

“Executive Presence” – the Book:

You might have the qualifications to be considered for your dream job, but you won’t get far unless you can signal that you’re “leadership material” and that you “have what it takes.” Professionals are judged on presence as well as on performance.

As such, leadership isn’t as much about what you do, but rather how you look and come across while you are doing it.

The author found that executive presence rests on three pillars:

• How you act (gravitas)

• How you speak (communication)

• How you look (appearance)

You don’t need to have all of these elements in equal measure:

  • Gravitas is the most important with 67% of the executives surveyed say that it matters most.
  • Communication comes in at 28%.
  • Appearance comes in at 5%.

Demonstrating confidence through “grace under fire”, the ability to make tough decisions, integrity and emotional intelligence are the important ingredients of gravitas.

Communication (superior speaking skills, the ability to command/read a room, assertiveness and sense of humor) and appearance (being polished and groomed, fit/slim, appropriate wardrobe choices) tend to be significant factors in assessing a person’s gravitas.

The book is organized into seven simple chapters that will lead the reader on the journey toward building up their Executive Presence:

Chapter 1: What is Executive Presence

Chapter 2: Gravitas

Chapter 3: Communication

Chapter 4: Appearance

Chapter 5: Feedback Failures

Chapter 6: Walking the Tightrope

Chapter 7: Authenticity versus Conformity

Each chapter contains specific examples from well-known companies, brands and people that you’ve watched on the news.

Much of the book is taken up in discussing how cultural prejudices can be overcome. The author is of the view that the best results are achieved by accentuating the strengths that make you different from the white alpha male, rather than by trying to pretend to be a white alpha male.

In order for your voice to be heard, you must first be in a position where people will listen to you. If you are at a point in your career where you are delivering solid results, but just can’t seem to get to the next level, Executive Presence could be the missing link. Regardless of where you are in your career or even to what level of leadership you aspire to, “Executive Presence” can serve as a helpful guide to ensure you can bridge the gap between merit and success.

This book is for sure also useful for leaders who are ready to have their preconceptions challenged to ensure that going forward their workplaces can experience the benefits of greater diversity.

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