Aparna Sharma

Executive Presence in a Virtual Work World | Aparna Sharma | Consulting Editor | The People Management

Aparna SharmaExecutive presence is an often-discussed topic in the corporate world. But what does this phrase really mean? Forbes describes executive presence as “your ability to inspire confidence among peers that you’re capable and reliable.” In other words, your goal is to convey your ability to lead and make your colleagues believe in your capacity to lead, so that your presence and guidance as a leader is felt even when you’re not actually in the room.

In fact, this “when you’re not in the room” leadership has never been more significant than it is right now. While you may not have always been directly involved with every decision in pre-COVID-19 times, you likely were at least in the same office with your colleagues. Now that you were working from home for so long, how can you convey that same level of executive presence you could when you were on the same premises as your team?

Here are a few tips-

1. Promote tools for your team to get in touch with you –
If you were in a face-to-face situation, you’d signal your interest in your team talking to you by leaving your door open or other visual cues. However, it can be much more difficult to let others know you’re available on a virtual platform.

To create that same idea that your team can “drop in,” use virtual tools to convey openness. For instance, you could hold a regular drop-in hour on Zoom, where your team could discuss issues or strategize with you. Alternately, chat tools like Microsoft Teams can replicate the “water cooler talk” that happens in face-to-face offices and builds community.

2. Express how you’re feeling – and let your team do the same-
One of the struggles with working from home is that it’s hard to read body language or facial cues. Still, experts say that leaders are open about their emotions and express how they’re feeling. So, if you feel upset or excited about a current event in the world, write an email to your colleagues about your reactions. Alternately, you could host open forums on particular topics to brainstorm and share ideas that they might be interested in discussing.

3. Deploy key tactics for virtual meetings-
Virtual meetings can feel more informal than face-to-face ones, but don’t let the fact you’re hosting a staff meeting in your living room fool you! Experts suggest several tactics for convey executive presence, even on virtual video meetings:

  • Fill the screen with your full head and shoulders.
  • Look at your laptop camera while you’re speaking, not directly at your team.
  • Talk more loudly than you think you should; speak as though you’re filling a large conference room.
  • Nod and ask follow-up questions to let your team know you’re listening.
  • Mute yourself when you’re not speaking so your team doesn’t hear background noises (like your kids or pets!).

4. Actively use one social media platform-
To convey trends about your company and ideas that are important to you, experts suggest using one social media platform. Depending on what feels natural to you, choose a social media platform liked LinkedIn or Twitter that you’ll use regularly. Encourage your team to follow you. Then, share ideas, articles, or developments that matter to you. This way, your team will have confidence that you’re up-to-date with new ideas, while also getting a better sense of who you are as a leader.

5. Be your authentic self-
Creating a robust online presence isn’t about becoming someone you’re not. Instead, use the same tactics you would to lead an in-person meeting or interact with your colleagues in the break room. If any virtual platform doesn’t feel natural to you, you don’t have to use it. Developing an executive presence online isn’t about being a virtual version of yourself; it’s about being yourself in a virtual space.

No matter how independent your workforce, you nevertheless want to make your presence known. More than that, you want them to see you as a capable and motivational leader. Perhaps it was easier to convey executive presence in a face-to-face workplace, but there are still many virtual tools for you to connect with and inspire your employees.

Still, we’re facing unprecedented times and choosing the right strategies to convey executive presence for your personality and your employees can sometimes be ambiguous. As you transition to a semi-permanent online work mode, creating a strategy that moves your face-to-face leadership online can be invaluable.