At various career stages, you’ll excel, mastering tasks and gaining expertise. Despite feeling ready for a promotion that offers more significant challenges and responsibilities, your boss might hesitate, adding a “but …” to your accomplishments during performance reviews due to lingering doubts about your executive presence.
So, what is going wrong? How do you dispel doubts and make a lasting impression on those considering you for the next level? Below, you’ll find the most common barriers to promotion, all intricately linked to an enhanced executive presence.
1. “You’re so good in meetings with our customers, but …
… you are unclear and not succinct when speaking to senior executives.”
Negative impact: The approach you use to communicate and present to your customers isn’t working for those in senior leadership. You may lack confidence in conveying ideas or struggle to communicate clearly and succinctly, hindering your ability to provide the correct information to those in power when it matters most.
What to do: Elevate the sophistication of your message. The executive team demands clear, concise information devoid of emotion or ambiguity. No one is questioning your in-depth knowledge and expertise, but mastering the art of confident, concise communication is crucial. Consider an executive coach who can help you role-play and refine with real-world scenarios.
2. “You’re an expert in your field; no one is better technically, but …
… you don’t take charge and lead.”
Negative impact: If senior management doesn’t see you leading in the day-to-day, there’s no way they’ll envision you leading in the bigger arena. Your work might be impeccable, but technical competence doesn’t necessarily translate into great people leadership — or a promotion.
What to do: Don’t wait for the significant opportunities to present themselves, and don’t hold back in decision-making. If you know the right course of action, say so, and then step up to make it happen. If you’re worried about whether you have the official authority or about stepping on toes above you, ask a mentor to work with you to take small steps and refine your sense of what leadership looks like. You don’t have to be out front and barking commands to provide the decisiveness and sense of assurance those around you seek.
3. “You’re knowledgeable and smart, but …
… you lack poise and are too hesitant when speaking.”
Negative impact: No matter how much knowledge you have, people will not perceive you as knowledgeable if you don’t share it with confidence and authority. While you may be hesitant or stilted because you’re intimidated by the audience or thinking through all the complexities in your head, your audience hears a lack of assuredness in your voice.
What to do: Share your thoughts with more gravitas. Start from the belief that people want to hear your opinion and know you have the experience to back it up. Now, tell them what you know with assurance and conviction. If you’re stilted or hesitant because you struggle with wording, consider executive coaching focused on improving your presentation skills. It will help you learn to form and articulate your thoughts concisely.
4. “You know our business inside out, but …
… you don’t stake a position and stand by it.”
Negative impact: You may think you’re leaving the door open to other ideas or demonstrating your willingness to share the problem-solving process. Still, it comes across as ambivalence when you don’t defend your position or opinion in a debate. Executives are likelier to perceive your malleability as waffling or lack of passion, not open-mindedness.
What to do: Be ready to go to bat for your strongest beliefs. Defend your less firmly held ideas and opinions. Practice the phrases you could and would use to disagree with others respectfully. Learn to put your thoughts forward in different ways, with different wording, to be persuasive and offer up your logic from various positions. Remember that regardless of whether your idea is accepted or not, your opinion matters and is valued, so speak up.
When your skills plateau, the solution often lies in building your talents in executive presence. I often coach my clients that it’s not always about what you know but how you present yourself and your ideas. Confidence and conciseness matter more than bravado. Begin by showcasing your knowledge using the tips mentioned above. Soon, you’ll reshape how executives perceive you and eliminate the “but” from all your performance reviews.
Joel Garfinkle provides executive presence coaching services and is the author of 11 books, including “Executive Presence: Step Into Your Power, Convey Confidence, & Lead With Conviction.” Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work newsletter or view his video library of more than 200 easily actionable, inspirational, two-minute video clips by subscribing to his YouTube channel.
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