Customer Reviews: Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success
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on June 5, 2014
It turns out that becoming a leader and doing something amazing with your life hinge on what makes you different, not what makes you the same as everyone else, according to Sylvia Hewlett in this book. Executive presence is a measure of image rather than performance; it is the manner in which you signal to others that you “have what it takes” to be star material.

So, what is it that coworkers and bosses look for when they evaluate an employee’s executive presence? The author and her research team at the Center for Talent Innovation used a survey and focus groups to discover the answer, and they found that executive presence rests on three pillars:

• How you act (gravitas)
• How you speak (communication)
• How you look (appearance)

Of these three ingredients, gravitas is said by senior leaders to be by far the most important, followed by communication and then by appearance. However, appearance and communication tend to be significant factors in assessing a person’s gravitas. Projecting confidence, displaying “grace under fire”, tone of voice, body language and eye contact are all important ingredients of gravitas.

A tall, well-built, white male has an unfair advantage in establishing gravitas when compared with women, people who are overweight, people of other ethnicities, and members of other minority groups. Much of the book is taken up in discussing how these 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.

This book is useful for anyone who feels that they would like to enhance their executive presence, but it is also useful for managers and leaders who need to have their preconceptions challenged so that their workplaces can experience the benefits of greater diversity.
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on June 12, 2014
I initially hesitated to purchase this book, since I have a scepticism towards most of the self-help/management genre. I am very glad I picked this book up. It brims with pragmatic advice on the essential topic of Executive Presence. This book is not just for those pursuing positions of power in corporate board rooms. It is for anyone seeking to translate their hard earned merit into just rewards and career progression.
Hewlett artfully balances personal reflection and anectode with relevant case studies and hard data to provide a credible and highly readable volume. She does not shirk from the tough issues faced by many in developing their executive presence.
I came away from the book with a number of practical ideas that I incorporated into my engagement with stakeholders and the board level. Early indicators show encouraging results!
I also found the sections that specifically addressed women to be extremely valuable. As a male responsible for the professional development of female team members, these insights will enable me to support them more effectively and be a better sponsor in terms of their progression. And yes, I have recommended the book to them as important reading.
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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 ineed 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!
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on June 24, 2014
Whether you're aware of it or not, every time you interact with people they're performing a mental calculus on whether you're someone they'd want to take into the foxhole with them. Are you trustworthy? Seasoned in your judgment? Inclined to protect your team? What this book makes clear is how many ways we signal our "leadership readiness" in just about everything we do or say, and even in what we wear or call attention to in our appearance. Hewlett helps us decode what highly effective leaders do, that we might emulate them, but also reveals what WE do that speaks volumes about our courage, competence, and credibility. You'll become conscious of blunders you've made (the first step toward not repeating them); and you'll understand just how, starting tomorrow, you might solicit better feedback so you can start amping up your EP. Incredibly helpful stuff, even for veterans of the corporate battlegrounds.
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on July 22, 2014
Is an executive position part of your career goal? Do you have the necessary skill and experience? Are you wondering why you are not there yet?

The subtitle of this immensely useful book, is “The Missing Link Between Merit and Success.” Based on my 22 years of working closely with people in executive positions, I know she has hit the mark – Executive Presence (EP) is the missing link.

This is not the first book on looking and sounding like an executive, there have been many before. However, Sylvia Hewlett’s take on this issue rings true where other books I have read left me with a discomfort that something is missing from the explanation.

There are two reasons for trusting this book. The first is that Dr Hewlett lived the problem she has tackled in this book. The second is that she has been able to do a piece of credible research that turns the “woolly and elusive concept” of EP into a clear, securely founded, practical model. “Which is why I wrote this book,” she explains.

Dr Hewlett grew up in a Welsh mining community, had few clothes, no social graces and spoke English with a thick working-class accent. Despite her formidable intelligence, she failed her interview for a place at Oxford University despite qualifying, because she was so inappropriately dressed for the situation. (Not knowing any better, she had dressed like the Queen Mother!)

She also qualified for Cambridge University and after the interview at which she dressed more appropriately, was accepted into the University.

She taught Economics at Barnard College (associated with Colombia University) where she initially had difficulty convincing anyone she was a professor and not a student, and was not taken seriously by faculty. Aged 27, (which is very young for such a position,) she her hair waist-long and wore flowing ethnic skirts. “I now understand that my early struggles to command attention and respect in lecture halls and faculty meetings did not center on content or delivery (I was a clear, crisp speaker and knew my material cold), but rather centered on the way I presented myself.”

If the first reason for trusting this book is the author’s personal experience, second reason, is the research conducted through the Center for Talent Innovation, where Dr Hewlett is President and CEO. Her research team conducted a national survey involving nearly 4,000 college-educated professionals. Included in the cohort were 268 senior executives. The research aimed to ascertain what co-workers and executives look for when they evaluate an employee’s EP.

Without Executive Presence, no one attains a top position, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following. Executive presence is not a measure the person’s ability and performance, rather it is a measure of the image you project that you “have what it takes, that you are star material.”

Each year the Concert Artists Guild hosts an international competition. From an applicant pool of 350 instrumentalists and singers from all over the world, 12 extraordinary young musicians are brought to the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City where a distinguished jury judges the finalists.

What emerges with regularity is the importance of non-musical factors in the final judgement. Did the musician smile, exhibit confidence, make eye contact with the audience, and so on?

The world of work is no different.

Executive Presence is comprised of three pillars that apply across all industries, all business types and all economies. The specifics differ vastly. What is required in a high-end law firm is not the same as in a chain of supermarkets, a hospital, or and marketing firm.

The three pillars are “Gravitas” how you act, “Communication” how you speak, and “Appearance” how you look.

These pillars are not of equal importance. “Gravitas” was identified as mattering most by 67% of the 268 executive in the survey. “Gravitas” implies knowing your field exceptionally well.

“Appearance” might seem to be highly important from my introduction to this column, but it is not, rated only 5% of what makes up Executive Presence. “Communication” was rated 28%.

Gravitas is not only projecting intellectual horsepower, but also having the confidence and credibility to get heard and accepted. Gravitas has six components.

The first is confidence and projecting “grace under fire”. It is when under attack that this element of EP shows. We know we are in the presence of a leader when he or she remains calmly in control in the most difficult of circumstances.

Then there is decisiveness, holding to a carefully thought through position and being threatening if necessary. Behind this is integrity, being able to “speak truth to power,” where others are not.

While decisiveness and confidence signal conviction, courage, and resolve in a leader, when these are not accompanied by empathy, they look like egotism, arrogance, and insensitivity.

A leader’s reputation needs to be nurtured and guarded because it goes before one has even appeared. Finally, leaders need a vision.

Effective communication, the second pillar of Executive Presence is critical. As I have written a number of times in the column, a brilliant idea poorly presented sounds like a poor idea.

A great comfort emerges form the research conclusions on Appearance, the third pillar of Executive Presence. Appearance is defined as “grooming and polish” rather than “physical attractiveness” or “body type” according to the respondents. These, fortunately, can be corrected where “physical attractiveness” or “body type” usually cannot.

“Crack the EP code you’ll be first in line for the next plum assignment and be given a chance of doing something extraordinary with your life,” asserts Dr Hewlett. To do that, read this book. It is an easy read full of accounts of familiar business executive and other leaders. The book will keep you engaged as you learn this most crucial lesson.

Readability Light -+--- Serious
Insights High -+--- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
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on October 9, 2014
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is a leftist and makes three attempts in the book to rehabilitate the reputation of her friend Cornell West, as well as pump up Hillary and Bill Clinton. Having said that, there is much to recommend this book. Although it is focused towards women and minorities, and gives many examples of the challenges they face that white men like me don't have to surmount, there is a large amount of effective advice for anyone who wants to advance in their career - not just at the executive level.

This book is much more substantive than a simple 'dress for success' book. There is significant detail substantiating her assertions.

Ignore the occasional rah-rah for the left and focus on the gems of wisdom. I would have given it a 5 if she wasn't also trying to use it for her political goals.
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on November 2, 2015
This book does have a catchy title and I purchased it on Kindle because the synopsis seemed intriguing. However, I found myself quickly scanning page after page because it had very little to offer as a male professional. She gets on a tangent about how women can be treated unfairly, their dress code (don't dress provocatively), etc, so it had zero relevance for men for a large amount of pages. Nothing wrong with that (and it may be helpful for a woman) but I wouldn't recommend this purchase if you're male. Some decent points, but hard to come by.
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on December 4, 2015
These are the three pillars of Executive Presence, according to Hewlett:
1. Gravitas-poise, charisma, and grace.
2. Communication-public speaking confidence
3. Appearance-outside appearance and general attitude of you from others

Gravitas is defined as dignity, seriousness, and solemnity of manner. Hewlett says that it conveys “intellectual horsepower and charisma.” It is grace under fire. A historical example is Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who was known for standing “like a Stone Wall” at the Battle of Manassas/the First Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War. Courage under fire is what is implied here. One conveys gravitas in their communication mannerisms. Self-control in the most awful situations is important. Gravtias can be learned through a meditation practice, but may be the most difficult thing to teach others. Meditation can be accomplished in concentrating on the breath or spending quiet time deeply breathingThis includes emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence means that one may adequately manage their own emotions in an effective manner that mitigates the negative effects of emotions. This allows one to empathize with others while keeping the positive emotions handy. It consists of four attributes:
1. Self-awareness-You recognize how your emotions affects your life in a manner that allows you to manage your emotions and be confident.
2. Self-management-You can control your emotional impulses and follow through on activities whether or not you emotionally want to do it.
3. Social Awareness-You understand others emotions and pick up on emotional cues and needs.
4. Relationship Management-You know how to work with others, work towards a team effort, and manage conflict.
Gravitas is the key pillar of Executive Presence. One must master gravitas to master Executive Presence.
Communication focuses on public speaking confidence. It is well known that people’s most common fears are speaking in public. One may join a public speaking and networking group like Toastmasters International for skills that will apply towards fear of public speaking. One may also prepare to the point of confidence if they do not speak in public regularly. A blend of these two approaches may help the most fearful. Hewlett mentions tonality for women, yet tonality practice of the voice may be helpful towards women and men. Men may work towards lowering their vocal tone while giving speeches. This will make people feel the worker knows the topic he or she has been speaking on. Women may also lower their tone, Hewlett says. Improving ones grammar, lessening the effect of accents, eye contact, and practicing to the point of memorization will help with public speaking confidence. Public speaking is scary. You are not abnormal for being afraid of it. The point of EQ (as mentioned before) and working towards public speaking confidence is managing to speak despite fears. Speak concisely and clearly. Avoid extra words until you are familiar with new hires or clients. Smile in the first few seconds of your speeches and master using hand gestures to illuminate speeches. This use of hand gestures is believed to lessen the need for “umms” and “uhhhhs.” Practice, hand gestures, and Toastmasters will contribute to your public speaking to master the art of communication.
Appearance applies to physical appearance. Take care of your bodies early so that you do not have a problem later. Hewlett recommends wearing the “right” amount of makeup by seeing a beauty consultant (for women). She makes some recommendations that may not be helpful, such as plastic surgery for women, saying the “sweet spot” for Executive Presence in women is 39-42. Rather, dress a half step up from the rest of your peers. If accessories make that difference, dress as they do but keep the accessory difference. Some advocate choosing a “work uniform” such as a black suit with a white shirt to eliminate the impact of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is when someone tires of making decisions so much that the quality of their decisions lessens over time. This can be avoided by buying several sets of the same outfit for work. One example here is the black sweater and blue jeans is Steve Jobs later years. While one may not have the latitude to wear jeans to work, this is only an example.
Many of Hewlett’s recommendations are made towards younger professional women. This is demonstrated primarily in the communication and appearance sections. Gravitas is thereby implied to be a skill only found in middle-aged white men. While there is not entirely clear knowledge of Hewlett’s beliefs, one should be yourself. It is easier to be a minority and show gravitas towards others than it is to pretend to be a white male and fail completely. Think of Morgan Freeman (gravitas) and James Earl Jones (gravitas). One should be confident in who they are. Emulation of mentors (even ones you do not know) is important but one should be themselves first. Failure to be yourself will be noticed by others who will feel you do not have Executive Presence. This applies towards women, as well. Executive Presence can belong to anyone willing to work at it. While Hewlett may advocate being yourself, it is not entirely clear through the article provided.
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on August 8, 2014
This is the first book of Sylvia Ann Hewlett I read. The book is extremely well written and easy to read and to understand, even for a non native English speaker like me. the three "pillars" of Executive Presence (EP) are well introduced and explained:

1. Gravitas: how you act
2. Communications skills: how you speak
3. Appearance: how you look

Sylvia then explains with hard quantitative and qualitative data and real life stories the key aspects of each pillar of the EP and how you can develop them. She does not stop there. She also presents the key blunders and how to overcome or avoid them. Most tips and advices provided in the book are common sense things but very often forgotten, in particular if you're on a hot seat or under the spotlight.

However and in my opinion, the book is more focused on the corporate world, in particular the C-Suites job, and the political world. Like most of the books on leadership and management, the not-for-profit and public sectors are missing. That is why I am giving 4 stars rinse 5 stare.

I think authors should take time to study the not-for-profit and public sectors. There are probable a lot to learn from leaders and managers of these sectors.
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on February 14, 2015
It seems to me that the significant and interesting information contained in this book would be better delivered in a well-written blog post.

Long sections deal with multi-cultural considerations and also about women in business. There are some good insights on giving advice to others regarding things that limit their executive presence (good for leaders / managers).

It contains some good insights but too much filler and not enough substance for my liking. Also, I felt that the book was not a good value (I paid nearly $15 on Kindle).

Fairly repetitive for being such a short book (170-ish pages).
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