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Executive presence, the secret to leaving them spellbound

Executive presence is the elusive quality that helps you weave a spell over the room before you’ve even spoken. Hard to identify but easy to spot when it’s absent, presence is a blend of charisma, energy and gravitas. Together, these values represent your authentic brand of communication and leadership. By trusting them, and trusting yourself, others will trust your judgements.

When people value your opinion, they are willing to accept your recommendations and decisions. Trust comes from depth of character. There are no shortcuts. In trying to be ‘professional’, you end up diluting your personality. Rather than trusting your authenticity, you end up sacrificing it.

Our eLearning Learnflix course on Executive Presence shows you how to rely on what leadership expert Suzanne Bates calls the ‘three dimensions of executive presence’ – style, character and substance. They can be broken down into manageable bite-size chunks that can be learned and developed with practice. Rather than disappearing in a puff of smoke when you most need it, executive presence will become a core feature of your personality that you’ll always be able to rely on.


Together, your body language and tone of voice present the clearest signal on whether other people can trust you. Controlling the tone and volume of your voice, and adjusting body language, posture, eye contact and gestures, will help you stay in command under pressure.

In the 1990s, scientists discovered so-called ‘mirror neurons’, described by Oxford psychologist Dr. Cecilia Heyes as ‘the key to social cognition’.  Research suggests that, whether we are performing an action or simply observing it, these brain cells fire in the same way. Humans are wired to learn from and be affected by the people around them. Think of the last time you were with someone who was in either a good or bad mood — and the effect it had.

Keeping this in mind, if a person’s high energy and mood are contagious, it will inform the audience how they should feel about a subject. Similarly, low energy and a subdued mood will have the opposite effect. Facts might speak for themselves, but they’re not always easily heard. If you don’t sound interested in them, your audience won’t be either.


Of the three dimensions of executive presence, arguably the most important is character. This is the sum total of you, your values, beliefs, talents and formative experiences. These intangible qualities make you uniquely you. They motivate action and make work and life meaningful. Style can feel easier to master but without the solid foundation of character communication may be hollow and uninspiring.

Clues about your character lie in your accomplishments. They don’t determine your worth but are evidence of your talents, qualities and values. By listing your achievements and the inner qualities they sprang from, you can find a readily available source of confidence based entirely on your character. Understanding it, and being true to who are, will help you nail your sense of authentic presence.   


Having developed your authentic style, and understood the character you know yourself to be, you need to have something to say. The substance of your message is made up of the facts, ideas, and experiences you choose to share. This relies on an ability to connect with people using social and emotional intelligence. It’s important to carry your audience with you. To speak with conviction, you should believe in what you say and believe in the people you’re saying it to (…or at least appear to).

On entering a room, executive presence sets the tone. Hold on to it with storytelling skills that capture your audience. By structuring your story in a way that is engaging and inspiring, you will influence your audience and inspire them to act on your message.

Securing your personal brand

Executive presence contributes to your personal brand, which lingers long after you’ve left the room. Personal brand is the powerful, clear, positive idea that comes to mind when others think of you. It’s what you stand for – the values, abilities and actions that others associate with you. The stronger your executive presence, the stronger your personal brand.

Ultimately, executive presence is associated with integrity, the one thing only you control in any situation. You can check up on whether you’re upholding your values by reflecting every now and again on whether you’re acting in line with your beliefs. If you find you’re working contrary to them, it’s important to address this quickly. Your reputation and self-esteem are at stake. This is because at the heart of integrity is honesty, the unvarnished truth that underpins executive presence and which is plain for all to see.




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5 steps towards becoming an inspirational leader

Leadership skills begin with an inspiring sense of vision. Pursuing clear-sighted objectives and taking people with you along the way are qualities that separate great leaders from average managers. When people want to follow you, you’re halfway towards meeting your targets. How to inspire the ‘want’ is the key to leadership, crack that and greatness is yours on a plate.

Barack and Michelle Obama both have something about them – a sense of purpose you can believe in. Greta Thunberg, Marcus Rashford, David Attenborough, Anthony Fauci and Nancy Pelosi all have something similar. They are single-minded about implementing change for the common good, sometimes in the face of ridicule. It’s this that brings a footballer like Rashford international recognition as a campaigner on child food poverty.

Rashford didn’t launch his campaign for the sake of cheap publicity, or because it was an item on an agenda or agreed by a committee. Personal belief is a powerful driving force. When applied to some of the problems we face, it can be inspirational. This is vision, it’s infectious – which is why it reaches beyond borders.

Inspirational vision relies on authenticity. Without it, leaders struggle with consistency. Politicians for example may fall back on knee-jerk responses and populist quick fixes, skipping the tough decisions that changing times demand. Which isn’t particularly inspirational.

Circumstances have been changing fast in recent months, leaders in business have had their work cut out. Belief, clarity and passion can help to manage change, tame it and make the most of it. Inspirational skills such as these are not within the exclusive gift of a handful of individuals, they are components of a process that can be learned. Motivating those around you is a skill open to anyone.

Motivation rather than compliance

When people want to follow you, they’re motivated – rather than simply compliant. Good leadership helps the team find the same energy and passion that they see in their leader. This is why vision is infectious. As you lead the way through change, your belief in the direction you’re taking will inspire confidence among the people around you. This is the triumph of Barack Obama, Greta Thunberg and the rest. The authenticity that underpins their message instils confidence and wins them support.

If you’re not championing a food poverty campaign or tackling the climate emergency, how do you actually be ‘inspirational’? Perhaps start by deciding the direction you need to take. Set clear, decisive, hard-headed targets, then sell your argument. Clear communication is essential in winning hearts and minds, you’re looking for more than compliance, you’re aiming to motivate people.

Consequently, alongside hard-headed decisions a simultaneous softer sense of empathy helps to develop collaborative behaviour. Explaining the purpose and value of your goals with impact and presence will help to unite the team and build a shared sense of purpose. The ‘shared’ part is the important bit. Inspiration isn’t aloof, it’s inclusive.

Becoming an inspirational leader

The Harvard Business Review looked at data on 50,000 leaders who had been assessed by half a million colleagues. The HBR found that of the 16 competencies they most frequently measure, the one “that clearly stands out” is inspiring leadership.

Our Learnflix eLearning course on becoming an Inspirational Leader offers five key steps that will help you get to where you want to be:

1) Authenticity and Self-Motivation  Learn how to make an impact by understanding what drives and motivates people.

2) Rapport and Recognition  Learn how to connect genuinely with others and to recognise what drives those around us.

3) Purpose and Learning  Discover how to inspire by stirring up a sense of purpose and encouraging it in others.

4) Feedback and Pressure  Find out how to use the ‘desire to learn’ as a motivational tool, value ‘recognition as reward’, and learn how to stay motivated, even under pressure.

5) Inspiring Behaviour and Practice  Learn and practise the behaviours that inspire others.

This is a broad set of qualities and they don’t always come easy. But in perfecting your leadership skills, they’re a good place to start. Together, they will help you develop the inspiration that you and your team depend on, especially in times of change such as many of us are encountering at the moment.




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Resilience training helps with the pandemic rollercoaster

Personal resilience has been severely tested in recent months. The challenge of repeatedly entering and exiting lockdown is a bit like stepping off a rollercoaster. It’s nice to return to familiar ground, but things are wobbly for a while and it helps to clutch on to something – railings or children perhaps. These are on hand near rollercoasters. For everywhere else there’s resilience.

The end of lockdown

Resilience, according to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is “our ability to cope with the normal stress of life as well as being able to bounce back from crises.” Bouncing back is the tricky bit, as we’ve all come to find out. For many of us, lockdown was shaped by the fate of the industry in which we work. From remote working to redundancy, most people have been touched by change. Routines have been uprooted, human contact reduced and cornerstones of our mental framework tested on a daily basis.

A study released in September by the MHF found that of those who have experienced stress due to the pandemic, almost nine out of ten (87%) used at least one coping strategy. These have included going for a walk, spending time in green spaces and staying connected with others. Most people (64%) are coping well with the stress of the pandemic, but 14% of the 4,000 people who took part said they are not coping very well, or worse. The MHF found that for some people, resilience has been propped up by potentially harmful ways of coping, including increased alcohol consumption, substance misuse, and over-eating.

As we move into spring, lockdown three is set to end. Like butterflies breaking free of cocoons, we’re returning to a world that we haven’t seen for a while. So much has changed that it will be hard to describe this as a flight back to normality. For all of us, a time of transition is approaching, change is a cause of stress and stress calls for resilience.

Unravelling resilience

Definitions of resilience are broad. They include anything we might rely on – from physiology and attitudes to knowledge and skills. Together, these are the resources that help us withstand stress and adapt to change. Resilience is also supported by elements of our environment, from laws to the state of the economy. Some things are not within our control, but those that are can be strengthened.

Resilience can be developed ahead of change, making it easier to manage the transition to freedom and helping to bring unhealthy habits under control. The easiest and most cost-effective form of resilience training is via eLearning. This will help you break the patterns of negative thought that can disrupt your reserves of resilience. By using optimism and humour to manage challenging feelings or impulses, you’ll find it easier to be who, or where, you want to be – without tripping up along the way.

5 key techniques

By bringing negative thoughts under control, and bolstering a positive outlook, eLearning resilience training will make it easier to deal with the impact of change. To help keep you on track, here’s a sneaky peak at 5 techniques on offer:

1. Positivity ratio. Changing our thinking patterns can alter our emotional patterns. And when it comes to resilience, recognising our emotional patterns is key.

2. Acts of kindness.  Numerous studies suggest that people who engage in acts of kindness, whether it be giving, receiving or witnessing these acts, experience increased serotonin production.

3. Relationships. The ability to turn to others as we move through challenging times can be one of the most important resources we have.

4. Refining our reactions. Being able to successfully leverage challenges as opportunities to grow and learn is a skill that contributes greatly to resilience.

5. Mental and physical health. Another component of a strong level of resiliency is learning to take care of ourselves, even when things go badly.


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eLearning supports businesses in a hybrid work environment

As a business leader, you are probably thinking about how you can help your business negotiate its way out of this giant Covid-shaped hole that we all find ourselves in. Things are further complicated by the uncertainties that hybrid working might bring. But as the recovery gathers pace, one solution that offers more than you might dare to hope for is eLearning.

Working from home increased from 5% of the UK workforce before the pandemic to 47% in April 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. More than half of US employees currently working from home say they’d like to keep their remote arrangements beyond the pandemic. In mid-September, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, urged staff to return to the office. And more recently, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, said he too wants his people back at the office. For most staff, these dynamics are likely to lead to a hybrid solution involving part of the working week in the office, part at home.

Your people need to take action

Keeping your people happy is a top priority. Real value and the real opportunity for your business lies with the bits of it that are alive (and I don’t mean AI). Your people are the biggest opportunity. Remember it’s not only your business that has suffered, it’s your people too. What better way to encourage the people around you than to provide an opportunity for self-improvement in the very business skills that are needed right now.

International corporates with strong budgets for learning and development have long invested in classroom learning. During the pandemic, this pivoted to remote courses – among them eLearning, a cost-effective, dynamic solution. Regardless of the size of your business, eLearning is the affordable activity that puts you on the same level as the global corporates. Essentially eLearning is your secret weapon. Here’s why:

1. Human choices are smart choices

The one asset that has the potential to grow can be super-charged by eLearning. Only your people can shepherd your business, your clients and your culture through these challenging times. Think how much more confident your staff may be if they were better able to tap into their emotional intelligence, boost their personal impact or negotiate with clients a little better. Maybe they are new to leadership and need to motivate their teams or have difficult conversations. These skills are not nice to haves, they are fundamental to the smooth running of any business. At times like these they have the doubling effect of not only boosting skills but confidence as well. Consider it a win-win.

2. Supporting people in a hybrid environment

For a year now, offices have largely been shut, people are working remotely. They can learn remotely too. Your people are completely plugged into the internet and everyone under 30 is likely to be a digital native. You may not have the resources to spend on large, wholesale development programs, but the world has changed and now the resources we need are available at the touch of a button. Whether in the office or at home, eLearning can be rolled out at scale for a fraction of the price of big face-to-face learning interventions, offering benefits such as ‘just in time’ learning.

3. Attention and engagement are learning gold

We don’t live in an analogue world any more, nowadays learners want instant, high quality bitesize visual learning experiences, delivered by experts, pumped straight to whatever device they are holding. Although attention spans have decreased, people thirst for the chance to become a better version of themselves. To hold their attention, it’s important to inspire people emotionally so that the ideas and techniques they learn have a positive, permanent effect on their behaviour.

What are you waiting for?

Martin Luther King once told people to embrace “the fierce urgency of now”. What fantastic advice. May I suggest you follow that advice and plug your staff into an experience that will improve not only their lives but also the prospects of your company.

Nick Smallman is CEO of Working Voices, a global professional skills training provider and the architect of Learnflix – a modern, professional skills eLearning platform used by international corporations around the world.