Listening For A Sign

Listening For A Sign

If you’re old enough, you might remember a television commercial from your youth that was among the most popular of its day. It always involved two businessmen discussing their respective stock portfolios in some very public place and the tag line was always preceded with the same set up.

“Well, my broker says it’s a good buy…..What does YOUR broker say?”

The other would then begin, “Well, MY broker is E.F. Hutton and E.F. Hutton says….”

And then the crowded restaurant – or hotel lobby – or sports coliseum – would grow deathly quiet as everyone else strained to hear the answer.

The voiceover was always the same….“When E.F. Hutton talks….people LISTEN.”

On a 1 to 10 scale it was an 11…..EVERYBODY knew the pitch….and darn near everyone knew the brokerage firm – whether they ever purchased a share of stock in their life.

It probably dates me but from time to time I still use a snippet from that commercial for some of our workshops – it helps convey in powerful terms a concept that is terribly misunderstood in industry.

The overwhelming impact of authentic Executive Presence.

It’s a topic that is at or near the top of the pyramid for a majority of companies right now – I suffer no illusions as to why.


Twelve plus months of uncertainty, doubt, and fear.

COVID has become the great illuminator – and more than a few “would be” leaders have been found lacking – exposed by the blinding light of adversity that doesn’t care about your intellect – or  pay grade – or the number of headcount in your organization – or your past.

Executive Presence – the capacity to stir trust and confidence – to influence others enough for them to take action – is in short supply.

It’s sometimes replaced by what I call Titled Residence, which stands for all those who pitch a tent on their rank or position and say effectively, “Follow me!”

Probably not going to happen – as the saying goes, you can’t manage an army into battle – you can only LEAD them there.

I actually disagree – you can manage warriors into battle – it’s just you can’t do it and expect to be successful.

Sort of like the notion that you HAVE to have a parachute in order to skydive.

Not so. You only need a parachute if you plan to skydive TWICE.

There are quite a few people in positions of authority that are heading to earth at an alarming rate of speed – and carrying a few followers with them in their tandem jump.

There’s a reason the “E.F. Hutton” kind of influencer is so hard to find.

Ask 1,000 executives to describe what it means to have Executive Presence and expect to hear … well, about 1,000 responses.

The very term is cloaked in mystery…and the common response when we ask people to describe what’s involved in Executive Presence is similar to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s  ambiguous response all those years ago when asked to describe the threshold for obscenity.

“I know it when I see it.”

In the business world that litmus test doesn’t cut it. The ability to recognize it doesn’t help to build the skill set – we’re not whale watching out here….we’re trying to build a better whale.

The common default when the discussion turns to Executive Presence is usually … “Well, it’s The IT FACTOR” Or, “You know, they have that WOW Thing going on.”  Or “They just have this…I don’t know…this AURA.”

Sounds good…but not a path to really understanding it…and certainly not the road to developing authentic Executive Presence.

Which leads me to a few of the fundamentals we discuss when trying to understand the genie in the bottle of Executive Presence –  truths that are anything but self evident.

  • It’s not CHARISMA, it’s CHARACTER. For all those who believe a better presentation or just brushing up on your people skills will matter when it comes to Executive Presence – think again. The research is fairly emphatic here – the best and most important indicator of your EP comes down to WHO you are, not the bells and whistles that surround you. Confidence, poise, decisiveness, integrity, and emotional intelligence outweigh all else. We are hardwired as humans to cut through the lights – look into the souls of those who presume to lead us.
  • Communication is a lot more than WHAT you say – it’s HOW you say it. Public speaking is a key piece of some of our consulting work – to include Executive Coaching. Dissect what makes the best the BEST and we learn quickly that the words are the easy part.  Great communicators can command a room; they can read their audience; and they move quickly to hook the heart of their listeners.  I have never met a world class communicator who couldn’t do 3 things extraordinarily well. Tell a wonderful story – listen to their audience – engage that audience.  NEVER.
  • High Executive Presence and “calmness under fire” go hand in hand. If you want to quickly sort out the vast array of pretenders then look at those in positions of authority whose temperament is always aligned with the severity of the latest crisis. Reacting from a place of emotion is human – but leading from a place of emotion can be devastating. Those few with high Executive Presence are like the North Star – a constant all of us can set our sails by.
  • If you don’t know where you are it’s going to pretty tough to figure out where you should be going.  Nothing is more compelling than reality – especially when it comes to this thing called Executive Presence.  A few years back we introduced a simple Executive Presence 360 Assessment that has dramatically changed both our leadership training and our coaching.  It can be a cold splash of water – but it helps those who aspire to build a high degree of EP to take action – and emphatically.
  • And finally, for those enamored with becoming their company’s version of a latter day E.F. Hutton – remember that authentic Executive Presence is NOT an “ego trip” – it’s a “we go” trip. Arrogance, I’ve found, abounds in the corporate world – and there are far too many that confuse it with Executive Presence – when, in fact, it is the exact opposite. Seek out high EP and you’ll most often find quiet confidence buoyed by an amazing sense of self worth, tempered by the knowledge that it’s the team that matters – not the individual. And at its core there is always the same quality – TRUST.


I confess in some of my coaching sessions that it took me far too long to realize this fundamental truth –  It’s not what transformational leaders do that makes us think so differently about them – it’s what they do that makes us think so differently about ourselves. 

Therein lies the secret of Executive Presence.

Those old E.F. Hutton commercials travel with me … a quiet reminder from a bygone day that whispers, “They’re still out there….keep listening.”



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