Executive Presence: A Double Edge Sword ?

Executive Presence: A Double Edge Sword ?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

When you have a larger than life CEO or Founder do you celebrate it or dread it?

When Elon Musk recently tweeted that he would take Tesla private he got 100,000 reactions on Twitter and the stock tanked 14% in a day. Paytm’s Vijay Sharma got heavily trolled for what was dubbed as a tweet publicity but this also ensured crores got collected for the Kerala relief fund. Both instances have one thing in common; the influence their acts had on their firms. Tesla’s stock is yet to recover from that tweet but Paytm yet again has surely understood the impact of its Founder’s presence. Would I rather call it Executive Over presence? In a Gartner Survey, Executive presence was the second amongst the top 20 leadership traits.
Whether its startups or established firms some of their CEOs have an overbearing presence on the Brand. In the pre, social media era Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Narayan Murthy enjoyed cult-like status. Those days what they said and did were exaggerated by their followers and media. It mostly worked to their advantage as they built business and brands aided by their executive presence. The PR Machinery also needed stories beyond the organisation success. Heroes of the organisations made for a better narrative. So, the CEOs and the brands became synonymous with each other in many such cases.

Enter Social Media

Social media took this CEOs+Brands association to another level. Last week LinkedIn announced the names of people who had maximum profile views. At one level it’s a great publicity to the individuals and the organizations they work for. However, at another level, it puts great stress on these individuals and the organizations they belong to. Everything they say or do will be under the scanner. There are immense benefits to the brand when their Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or FB handles go viral. Certainly, their employers/board will also be nervous that they might be one tweet away from a damage control situation. As much as social media has allowed organisations to raise their employer brand it also has kept them on tenterhooks in few situations. Hence, many organisations have social media gags for their CXOs to prevent their ex-tempo expressions from harming their carefully built brand.
Now you know why CEOs of some of the well-known brands are unusually quiet or missing on social media.

Organisation Presence

It’s not just the CXOs external presence in events and social media that gets overbearing. Many organisations have their entire organisation dynamics built around their CEO which can lift or weigh them down. Some of the startups and their entrepreneurs are also building their venture around themselves knowingly or unknowingly. Few are even named after the of the founder making it even more obvious of the founder influence. In these circumstances, even the VCs talk more about the founder than the organisation. Even though there are CoFounders in some of the startups one of them invariably takes most of the limelight. It’s the larger than life personalities of these leaders than any marketing design that creates this halo effect.

To be or Not to be

Some of the marquee brands have got built without any influential founders and many organisations continue to flourish without them. Can Executive presence be engineered to build a brand? I tend to believe that you either have it or don’t. It’s difficult to create it even if it helps build the brand in some of the industries. It’s the natural persona and inclination of the leader to be omnipresent that decides the so-called Executive Presence. When some of them try to do it because competing firms have charismatic leaders they fall flat. Their social media handles amplify their disconnect and some of them in social settings are awfully out of their league. Many organisations even have training programs for C-Suite executives on executive presence. But, this is one trait that cannot be manufactured, you are either born with it or grown up with it.

Upgrading Executive Presence

I remember once doing an orientation session on Executive presence to my senior managers. We listed a host of factors leading to an Executive presence like confidence, composure, charisma, attire, mannerisms, communication. By the time we ended it, we realised that we needed unique personalities of different people to be seen in a single person for it to be called Executive Presence. It’s rare to get that combination in one individual. As much as one can learn the fluffy stuff like grooming, communication styles with training, the natural traits like of decisiveness, connecting and influencing are difficult to learn.
A practical approach to executive presence is to increase self-awareness of CEOs. In the midst of their huge ego its essential to show them the mirror frequently. It’s a tough one as their egos are their strength as well as weakness.
Yes, we all like the high gravitas CEOs/Founders who sway their way around. Likewise, we also prefer to be led by people who can make us feel valuable every day.
Like the former, the latter is also a rare quantity.

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