How to Develop an Executive Presence

By Ellen Ensher, LMU Professor of Management
Learn more about Ellen Ensher by visiting her website:

Transitioning from being a college student to a professional is a very big deal and it is fraught with excitement and anxiety for most students. In the working world, it can be hard to establish credibility as a newly minted professional. One way to do this is to consider how you can leverage style to present your best professional self at work and focus on developing your executive presence.

What is executive presence? Executive presence is about having a combination of qualities that communicates that you are competent and in charge in a way that is appealing to others. Think about the last time you walked into a crowded networking event – could you pick out the power brokers without being introduced? People with executive presence exude success and seem to have an intangible “it” factor. If we deconstruct the “it” factor in executive presence a big part of that is how one leverages fashion, style and appearance to make an impression.

LMU wants its students start developing their executive presence early on. A great way to practice this is start developing your own approach for developing executive presence for professional networking events, class presentations, and of course interviews.

  • Check out this YouTube clip which features economist and bestselling business author, Sylvia Hewlett, discussing her research findings on how to develop an executive presence. You can read more about these ideas in her book “Executive Presence” or by visiting her website at
  • Watch the YouTube clip from the April 2014 LMU event Dress Code Decoded: Style Your Way to Success. For this event, we brought in Eva Sippel, a Hollywood stylist and expert on how to dress professionally.

Reflection Questions

  • Hewlett found that executive presence is composed of: gravitas, communication skills and appearance. What do you think? Is this true in your experience? What other qualities do you think compose executive presence?
  • Think of someone you have encountered professionally (such as a boss, a family friend, a professor, or a parent) that you think has executive presence. What is this person’s style of dress like and how do they exude EP?
  • Consider the LMU Dresscode Decoded event. What is your reaction to Eva’s advice regarding what to wear for interviews? What will you wear for your next interview or presentation? What do you have in your wardrobe that works and what do you need to obtain? Make a professional shopping list for yourself.
  • What mistakes style-wise have you seen your fellow students make when they have made presentations or attended networking events?
  • Consider a recent blog post on getting a style mentor Who are some people that you know or admire either in person on or TV whose style you would like to emulate? Who are your inspirational style mentors and why?
  • Discuss with a partner what you think business casual means in an industry that you are interested in getting a job in? How can you convey EP when dressing business casual?
  • What questions do you still have about developing your own executive presence and dressing appropriately for presentations, interviews, and on the job?