Executive Presence for the Physician Leader

By Bruce Flareau, MD
February 22, 2021

Many senior executives speak of the importance of executive presence, yet far too few organizations or individuals have taken the time to define what they mean by this attribute of leadership.


In the business realm, I have often seen assessments of competency, knowledge and leadership worthiness based on the concept of executive presence - essentially judging a book by its cover. Many senior executives speak of the importance of executive presence, yet far too few organizations or individuals have taken the time to define what they mean by this attribute of leadership. And even if they did, it is largely about the eye of the beholder. Yet it is an immensely important issue that shows up time and again. I have seen physician leaders dismissed from organizations over this issue of executive presence even when they were highly productive and highly successful in doing their work. And so, together we have to take a deep look at this issue and ask the tough questions around your executive presence.


Let us start with a simple definition. Presence is simply the way you show up to others. Executive presence is your ability to give off a general sense of poise, confidence, decisiveness and dignity. It is essentially your reputation in their minds eye. Do you know how others view you? Will anyone tell you? Are you empathic or erratic, sincere or psychotic, rational or ruthless, caring or uncaring, trustworthy or otherwise? While presence is their interpretation of you, you have many levers from which to choose to shape your presence.


Your executive presence is determined by non-verbal and verbal communication—through actions, mannerisms, off-the-record commentary, appearances, voice and incidental encounters. Are you moody? Do you think before you speak? Do you listen and try first to understand? Are you confident in your demeanor? It is said that 80% of communication is non-verbal, and so this idea of presence will take all aspects of our presence into consideration, not just the words you speak.


In my own development as a physician leader, I learned early on that I had a strong personality that hampered my approachability. My presence was strong and at times made me unapproachable. It took some honest feedback to realize that often, when I am deep in thought, I furrow my brow and can appear angry. An interesting observation since I am rarely, if ever, an angry person—yet perception is reality! While I did not want to stop deep thinking and problem solving, I did want to change the perception of my approachability. So, I worked on becoming aware of my brow furrowing. More importantly however, I learned to poke fun at it, to orient others to it, and in doing so, to make myself more approachable and a better leader. It all started with insight and honest communication.


As a leader, understanding and developing your presence is essential. Too often, leaders come forward, passionate around an issue, and become viewed as zealots, irrational, or extremist. This lowers your influence capabilities and is frustrating to say the least.

 


Excerpted from The Six P’s of Leadership for Healthcare Professionals: The Journey from Clinician to Executive by Bruce Flareau, MD.
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