One time when my father was in the hospital, he called me to take him some documents he had left at home. I went the next day, taking my lunch hour to drop off the papers. Dressed in my business suit, I rushed through the hallways, papers in hand, ignoring everyone in my way. I’m sure I had a frown on, considering I was missing my lunch.
As I rounded the corner of the nurses station, one of the nurses looked up, startled, and asked me, “Doctor, what patient are you here to see?”
No, I’m not a doctor, but she assumed that I was a doctor because I was behaving like one and I was dressed like one. At that point, I could have ordered my father released or some medications or even surgery!
It was how I presented myself that made the difference: the tone of my voice, my facial expressions, my stance and even how I dressed. At the time, I thought it was just a fluke, but over time, I’ve come to realize that it is more than that.
Now, research has confirmed that there is a basis for this. Allison Kluger, the Dorothy J. King Lecturer in Leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business in the areas of strategic communication, reputation management and personal branding, calls this executive presence – or the way people carry themselves, present themselves, communicate with others and project competence and calm.
In an interview for “Insights by Stanford Business,” Kluger says this quality inspires others to follow. More importantly, Kluger knows that anyone can learn and develop this key skill. “Executive presence is very much how you control a room, the impressions you make, and how you affect the people around you. It’s how you communicate verbally and through your appearance and physicality. It’s not just appearance, such as how you look, but more how you communicate with people initially and convey your intentions.”
It is more than just how you dress, but that is important, according to Kluger. “Are you dressed appropriately, and do you look put together and powerful, and are you wearing clothes easily and authentically, or do you maybe need to step it up to signify your power and presence? When it comes to executive presence, you want to make people feel like you’ve got their back and you can take care of it, whatever ‘it’ is.”
Kluger also stresses the importance of communication. “Do you look your team members directly in the eyes or do you look away? How do you speak? Do you speak with certainty or do you hedge and seem to be vague? People have to trust what you tell them. That comes across in how you communication with them.”
Finally, Kluger adds, “Think about the leader you admire and the leader you want to be, and act like the leader you want to be. The more you do it, the easier it comes.” Essentially, the more you practice behaving and acting like the person you admire, the better you get at it. That does mean that you have to study them and note all the details about how they behave.
In my case, I inadvertently behaved like a doctor. That’s what made the difference. Pick your model. Emulate them. See what happens.