Executive Presence for Nurses

Executive presence is the ability to command attention and have the perception of authority and confidence.
It’s a buzzword in the business world and is something any nurse wanting to climb the corporate ladder should know about.
In short, if you want to be noticed and promoted, you need to have executive presence.
Importantly, even those nurses who feel very comfortable and committed to a clinical role need to have executive presence.
It’s not just for those who hold, or aspire to, executive-level positions.


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What Is Executive Presence?
Catherine Robinson-Walker is president of The Leadership Studio, based in the San Francisco Bay area and specializes in leadership development and executive coaching in healthcare.
When the word “executive” is attached to “presence,” descriptions like these usually follow,” says Robinson-Walker: confidence, gravitas, charisma and competence. “All these adjectives sum to one thing,” she says – poise.
What does it mean to have executive presence?
“To me leaders with presence have the skill to stay grounded and lead powerfully on a regular basis,” says Robinson-Walker. “At the same time, they have the ability to stay true to themselves,” she says.

Leaders with executive presence, says Robinson-Walker, are comfortable in their own skin and, even if they receive information that ruffles them, they regain their composure quickly.
“Authenticity, strength and awareness of the people around you are at the heart of executive presence,” says Brandt Johnson, cofounder and principal of Syntaxis, a communication skills training firm based in New York City and regularly coaches business professionals on executive presence.
“The better sense I have of someone’s genuine personality, the stronger that person seems,” he says. As we interact with others, he says, those that we perceive as being aware of what we need are more likely to drive desired actions from us.
In addition to being authentic and grounded, says Robinson-Walker, leaders with executive presence also have the capacity to be clear, stay focused and relate to others. “These leaders are not distracted. Instead, they hold to their beliefs as they remain in the dialogue that is their works,” she says.
Why Do You Need Executive Presence?
Executive presence isn’t just an important competence for those in, or seeking, executive-level roles.
“If we subscribe to the theory that leadership is almost exclusively about relationships with others, then we can see that executive presence is a key competency for anyone who leads in any environment,” says Robinson-Walker.
Dean Sally Brosz Hardin, agrees.

Hardin has been the dean of the school of nursing at the University of San Diego since 2003. Executive presence is important for everyone, she says.

Nurses will find themselves in situations where they’re interacting with multi-disciplinary team members, including executives, according to Hardin. They will be interacting with patients and their families-sometimes these interactions can be tense and stressful.
Maureen White, MBA, RN, NEA-C, FAAN, senior VP and chief nurse executive of the North Shore-LIJ Health System agrees.
“Whether it be dealing with patients and their families or sitting in interdisciplinary meetings, the nurse should be perceived as confident in practice, engaging and understanding of the concerns of others, and in command of the issues at hand,” says White.
Of course, that can be easier said than done. In any given day, a nurse faces challenges that threaten their ability to maintain a strong executive presence.
What Helps/Hinders Executive Presence?
Even the most basic things can have a significant impact on executive presence, says Hardin. While it may seem obvious, it’s worth point out: how you dress does matter. Nurses should “dress like an executive,” says Hardin. Some other simple tips:
Listen more than you speak. And, when you do speak, have something important to say.
Get enough sleep! “If you’re going to have executive presence, you’d better be awake,” says Hardin. Unfortunately, she points out, she frequently attends meetings where some of the participants “look like they’re ready to nod off.”
Be assertive. Nurses, says Hardin, sometimes have a problem with this as they are used to caring for others and putting these peoples’ needs first. Then, when they get into an executive position, they’re reluctant to say no.
Do your homework; be prepared. Coming prepared is a must but, says Hardin, when you don’t know, say so. “Don’t try to fudge.”
It’s important, adds White, for nurses to “be reflective on how they are being perceived. For example, she says, “if a nurse perceives him or herself as timid in approaching patients, families, and physicians, they must ask themselves what the cause is. If it is because they feel they do not have enough clinical knowledge, they must take it upon themselves to strengthen their knowledge in order to gain more confidence.”
There are some additional things that nurses can do to develop, or enhance, their executive presence.



Check out the interactive magazine for a variety of resources to help jumpstart your nursing career.

Boosting Your Executive Presence
There are a wide range of books, articles and other forms of educational materials available that address issues related to the development of executive-level skills and these can be useful for nurses interested in honing their executive presence.
In addition, says Hardin, professional seminars and conferences can provide good insights, not just in terms of the presentations that are made there, but through observation. “Note the behavior of the people you are impressed by, or who you felt delivered a good speech, or who you feel is professionally dressed,” she suggests.
Nurses should also take advantage of the opportunity to seek feedback from their supervisors and managers, particularly during the performance review process, says Hardin. This can be true, particularly, if you received indications during a review that your behavior was less than professional.
Get specific feedback, she suggests, on what exactly about your behavior was considered unprofessional and suggestions on what you might do to improve.
Johnson offers some final recommendations for nurses hoping to improve their executive presence:
If you have a protective shield that tends to go up in your interactions with people, try lowering it and allowing your true personality to be seen.
Consider the experience of the people on the other side of your interactions. How are they receiving you and your ideas?
“Too often people get wrapped up in what they want to say rather than what would be most useful for people to hear,” says Johnson.
Make good use of others’ time. They will notice. “Time is perhaps our most precious resource, it is often wasted, and we can never get it back.”
Don’t be afraid to pause in silence to collect your thoughts and formulate your next words. Too often filler words and sounds such as “you know,” “like,” “um,” and “uh” make their way into speech, diminishing the strength of the ideas being presented.
“Precise speech goes a long way toward inspiring confidence and establishing executive presence,” says Johnson.
Make eye contact with people you are speaking to. It will help them feel connected to you and acknowledged by you. It will also enable you to pick up more readily on their non-verbal responses.
Making eye contact can also help establish your authority.
Check in with yourself physically. If you’re slouching, pick yourself up. Claim your space. Speak up and enunciate clearly. Don’t make people work to hear what you are saying.


Leading When You’re Not the Formal Leader

There are ample opportunities for nurses to find themselves in leadership roles – officially or not.

Relish the Spotlight

To build executive presence, nurses, as well as all individuals, must again be self-reflective and honest with respect to the areas in which they are lacking, White stresses. In areas where they may be lacking she recommends the pursuit of additional training or education. The willingness to stretch themselves is also important.

“At times they might even need to force themselves into uncomfortable situations to build their comfort level in displaying executive presence,” White notes. For example, she says, if nurses are nervous about public speaking, they should volunteer to make a presentation.
“It is only through this type of exposure and practice that they will become more confident in their speaking abilities and, thereby, more confident in themselves,” White says.
Nurses are in the spotlight these days as organizations like the Institute for Healthcare Improvement are recognized their importance to the healthcare industry and exhorted them – and the organization they work for – to develop the skills needed to lead in a volatile and increasingly important industry.
Your ability to develop your own executive presence can serve you well in your role as a nurse, whether at the bedside or the boardroom table.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer.

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