Generally, when growing a career, individuals start by gaining technical competence: the knowledge and expertise of one’s trade and knowing what one’s job is.
Once you finish that journey you start to learn how to interface with people, which is called interpersonal leadership or interpersonal skills. The assumption when a business leader is hired is that they are technically competent and know how to engage with people.
But what is more important is: how do you manage yourself? For those becoming leaders, the biggest person you manage as a senior leader is yourself.
Once you become a leader, people start to look at who you are and not necessarily what you are. They are more interested in your personality and character than they are about your skills and competencies, because that’s what they start to measure and to follow.
So typically, people start asking questions like: “What church do you belong to?” because they want to know what your values and beliefs are. So, the thing called “executive presence”, which is who you are, starts to matter.
One of the things that we, as leaders, need to think about and talk about is this issue of executive presence. We often talk about a lot of competences that leaders have, but seldom do we talk about executive presence as a key competence and a strength that a leader must have.
How do you dress? How do you look?
There are three things you need to remember about executive presence. The first thing you must think about is called style. How do you dress? How do you look?
Just imagine a banker with a torn collar; and you expect someone to give you a million kwacha! How we look and how we present ourselves is fundamentally important because that is the first thing in executive presence. How do you project yourself? How do you show yourself?
The second is substance. Do you know your substance? Normally, people look at you first, then they determine whether they can listen to you. Do you have knowledge? Do you have passion? Do you have conviction?
Are you sure about what you say? Are you competent in the things that you say? It’s important because it helps you deal with how people can trust your leadership.
But also, are you decisive in times of difficulties are you resilient? How do you deal with conflict? How do you deal with decisions? How do you manage a difficult environment?
Our business environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous
And the favourite word for today is VUCA – an acronym of the environment in which we operate – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – and that’s the key competence you need to have as part of your substance.
Are you able to deal with volatility? Are you able to deal with uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity?
The third thing that you must deal with in executive presence for people to follow you is character. How do you behave?
People say: “Talent gets you to the top but character keeps you at the top.” People tend to look out for every little thing that you do. They know what time you get to the office; what time you leave; what you do; where you park. It’s about how you behave.
There is also an issue about culture. You must start understanding the different cultures that you deal with.
So, your character should adapt to the environment that you are in and understand the different changes that happen in there. We are becoming more global, so you must be able to bring in all these cultures into the space and deal with them.
The difference that you make in your community
The other thing is that you must have community.
What difference have you made to community? If you are going to be a leader who makes no difference in anybody’s life you must start asking yourself: “What is my purpose for existence? Why did God put me on this earth?
What difference am I making to community and how am I making a difference somewhere else?” Because that is the hallmark of your presence; the legacy you will leave. There’s what they call The Second Death. Some people will die once. After they die, no one talks about them.
But there are people who have more than one death. They die but their works and acts live after them. Think about why we are still studying William Shakespeare who died in the 16th century. He died but his works still live. His second death is yet to happen.
The question you must answer as a leader is, when will your second death happen, and what difference will you make in your community?
Charles Mudiwa is Chief Executive of Stanbic Bank Zambia
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