Leadership is a gold-plated word, isn’t it?
It’s so valuable to companies, they pay big, big money for it.
It’s so impactful to families, children beg for it. Cling to it.
It’s so valuable to teams, they’ll jump out of airplanes after it.
The third item on our “12 Reasons Software Projects Fail” is lack of executive leadership.
A foggy vision for what the work is about, changing technology, stakeholders jousting for priorities and agendas, and processes that resemble a tangled nest of cat5 cable—it all means developing software that meets or exceeds expectations is, well, hard.
This is precisely why leadership, especially at the executive level, is the juice that energizes the team when enthusiasm runs low. Leadership helps light the path to success when things seem dark.
To be sure, there’s leadership in all roles on a successful team.
Self leadership: Leading yourself is the first step to getting work done well and on time. It’s also a requirement before you can lead others effectively.
Team leadership: Leading the project team is usually done by a team lead, project manager, or scrum master. This person is capable of motivating themselves as well as others.
Executive leadership: The team looks to the executive leader for the company weather report; they need consistent confirmation of the value and validity of their work. Good executive leaders help their teams get hard things done. They use their skills and invest political capital to remove obstacles. They are deft in their ability to communicate, influence, and persuade.
Executive leadership is especially unique, though.
Executive leaders have a presence about them.
In a survey of CIOs conducted by Gartner, executive presence was second on the list of the top 20 leadership traits that make a difference. By comparison, technology skills ranked 12th.
According to Jun Medalla, there are seven traits that professionals with strong executive presence display. And it doesn’t require being the social butterfly or having a Machiavellian personality, or even impressing your team with SAT words in every sentence.
Here are the seven traits, according to Medalla:
Composure: Self-awareness and understanding others are essential components of executive presence. The ability to control your emotions, recognize emotion in others and manage your response to them is key.
Connection: It’s critical to engage others when communicating and make them feel comfortable. The best way to connect is to understand your communication style challenges, how to overcome them, and how to read and adapt to the style of others.
Charisma: People who embody executive presence have the ability to draw others to them. This is often achieved through strong listening skills and an ability to stay “in the moment.” As a result, the people with whom you are communicating know that you are solely focused on them, and not distracted by the many other things you could be doing at that moment. They matter to you.
Confidence: One key aspect of executive presence is to communicate confidence both in what you say and how you say it. To appear confident, good posture is essential. Next, eye focus is critical. Ensure you only speak when making eye contact and manage your eye focus appropriately when communicating with more than one person — one thought per person. Ensure your facial expression matches your message and that your voice has good pitch, volume, and pace. And of course, you must look the part. Choose your wardrobe and accessories carefully.
Credibility: Not only is your content important, but the language you choose to deliver it will impact your credibility. Filler language such as “um,” “uh,” and “so” immediately detract from presence. As do minimizers like “just,” “sort of,” and “this may not be a good idea but…” When someone with strong presence speaks, others take note, and there is no doubt of the conviction behind their words.
Clarity: For you to exude presence, the ability to clearly communicate is fundamental. If your point is unclear, any hope of commanding attention is lost. Ask yourself, “What is my message in 10 words or fewer?” If you can’t articulate it to yourself you are not ready to communicate it to others.
Conciseness: Being verbose kills presence. Just as it is critical to know what you want to communicate, you must be able to do it concisely. Once you’ve delivered your message and validated it briefly, reverse back to others by asking, “What else can I share with you about this idea?” This way you stay on point and only expand on a topic with the content that your listener needs.
What to do next:
Consider creating a brief survey based on the traits above, then use it to ask your subordinates, peers, and superiors for their feedback. Be sure they know you’re not fishing for compliments. Give them license to be brutally honest.
It’ll certainly take courage, and you might be painfully surprised with their feedback, but the insight will help you dramatically improve your executive leadership skills. Receive the feedback and implement changes quickly.
Also, I encourage you to do a quick project check-up using our free Software Project Self-Assessment. It’s a simple PDF that will score your project in 12 critical areas and give you a directionally correct estimate on the level of risk you might be exposed to with your project. You can get it here.
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