Executive Presence (EP) is another way of describing your personal image, and is here defined as a mixture of three pillars – act with composure (gravitas), practice how and what you say (communication), andbe mindful of how you dress (appearance). EP is held to a different standard for women, minorities, and LBGT communities, mostly due to the high percentage of white men who hold high level management positions. The real-world examples lend a tangible weight to the points at hand, but the message is not in any way new.
I’m still not sure I really understand what “gravitas” is, except not losing your composure when shit hits the fan. The take-home message is to remain cool and logical even if your company makes a horrible mistake and you have to save face with the media for your shareholders (a la BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, from which the CEO apparently showed much gravitas). For communication, lose your accent, drop the pitch of your voice, and practice those acronyms and business lingo. Drive home the take-away message and don’t bombard those corporate bosses with the details. For image, don’t wear long fingernails, don’t dress too sexy, don’t wear hooker heels. Makes sense right? But the author also recommends wearing lots of makeup, wearing business heels, dyeing your hair when you go gray, and plastic surgery.
The last chapters are a 180 from the entire message of the book. Don’t be fake. If you can’t lose your accent completely, embrace it. If you choose not to wear heels, know that you’ll be perceived as less of a leader because you’re short, but embrace your differences. If you don’t want plastic surgery, your boss may see you as past your prime, but take advantage of being perceived as experienced. Try to conform but don’t if it makes you noticeably uncomfortable, because everyone will see you as a poser.
I have never felt at a disadvantage in my education or career because of my race or gender but this book makes me think I should have. As a logical person who attempts to navigate the workplace with merit-based fairness, I’m uncomfortable thinking I’m judged otherwise. I don’t mind “playing the game” to some extent, but this level of corporate conforming is not something I’ll choose to pursue.