Long reads

To lead you need to cultivate your executive presence

Kirstie McDermott

Kirstie McDermott

Senior Content Editor, Amply

Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos; these titans of tech do not appear to have much in common on a personal level, but both are responsible for founding and building two of the world’s most successful and recognisable brands in Apple and Amazon.

Jobs was an aesthete with a love of simplicity and the work of Japanese designer Issey Miyake, while Bezos is a larger than life, flamboyant character––his super yacht and fondness for designer clothes have dominated chatter in recent years.

Where they are similar is in the fact that both of them have the ‘it factor’––that secret leadership sauce that is a mix of sheer charisma, confidence, and a commanding aura, also known as ‘executive presence’. Great leaders tend to have a few things in common: trustworthiness, the ability to bring people together to join their cause, great communication skills, and the ability to work well under pressure.

First coined in 2014 by author Sylvia Ann Hewlett via the release of her business book Executive Presence, Hewlett says executive presence is “the missing link between merit and success”. 

Defining it

Defining what executive presence is can be a tricky task: 51% of HR workers find it hard to quantify, but 81% of them say they will know it when they see it.

It’s found in confident and capable people who understand that being a leader is as much about perception as it is ability. Those with executive presence also have high emotional intelligence: This helps with issues around conflict and communication, and it also aids in making connections across an entire workforce. 

Key traits

When you exude confidence and command at work, other people take notice. In fact, cultivating your own executive presence can be one of the best strategies to put in place if you want to ensure you rise up the ranks into a leadership position.

What should you do? Embodying the quintessential qualities of a leader is a good start. Decisiveness, trust, and integrity are key. Self-awareness, strategic thinking, innovation, action, and ethics are also important.

Executive presence, while it embodies all the classic leadership tenets, can be defined by three key traits, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Gravitas, communication skills, and appearance are its foundational pillars.

Do your peers take you seriously, and does your word hold weight? Both are important elements of gravitas. When it comes to appearance, this is less about clothes and far more about how you present your whole self in the workplace.

Leadership communication isn’t about your oration style. Rather, it is about your ability to inspire confidence and belief. Jobs famously said, “People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

His point speaks to how those with executive presence can and should be able to persuade others by being inspiring, effective communicators. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People confront problems by creating presentations,“ he said.

Good leaders already trust in their own judgement and decision making, and can inspire the C-suite and wider teams as a true measure of executive presence. For those with leadership ambitions, cultivating executive presence within your current organisation is the ideal––however, sometimes it can be easier to make a sideways move in order to get ahead.

If the time is right for you to look for a new role where you can put your executive presence into action, then there are plenty of world-class companies looking for effective people. Discover three below, and find many more on the Finextra Job Board.


Online payment system PayPal makes paying for things online easy, and it also facilitates the secure sending and receiving of money. One of the world’s largest fintechs, it ranked 143rd on the 2022 Fortune 500 of the largest United States corporations by revenue. Despite recent  layoff news––the company announced in January that it intended to cut 2,000 jobs, or around 7% of its workforce––PayPal continues to hire across engineering and marketing roles, among others. Discover careers at PayPal here.

BNY Mellon

Providing investment management, investment services and wealth management that help institutions and individuals succeed in markets all over the world, BNY Mellon has global scale, deep knowledge and advanced technology, with a view into $35.2 trillion of assets and one of the largest data sets in the financial world. This gives it a truly unique perspective. BNY Mellon is hiring: discover all open roles right here.

Starling Bank

Digital challenger bank Starling Bank provides current and business accounts in the United Kingdom. Licensed and regulated, it received its banking licence from the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority in July 2016, and since then it has been voted Best British Bank in the British Bank Awards in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. If you would like to make a difference here, Starling Bank is hiring for roles that include analysts and banking specialists. Get an overview of open roles now.

For more opportunities across finance and fintech visit the Finextra Job Board.


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