The messy-middle! – I

Are you feeling stuck in your career? You are in the messy-middle wherein you have had almost a decade of work experience, are now leading a team, and yet that next jump looks elusive…

As a coach and mentor, I have many young women approach me with wanting to improve their executive presence. What does that mean exactly?

In the words of Rani, a mid-level communications professional, executive presence meant being given the opportunity to be seen and heard by the top leadership. She felt that while her work was being appreciated by her manager, she was not getting the right opportunities to present her ideas, opinions, and thoughts at the C-suite level. This was important to her because it would be a recognition of her talent and competencies.

Or take the case of Janhavi, who wanted to shadow her manager so that she could pick up critical skills and widen her thinking. But she did not have any exposure to even cross functional projects. Her work began and ended within her team. She feared that she was losing out on growth and would forever be stuck in this messy-middle.

For many, executive presence is about that first impression you make. The 2006 research by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found that in as few as 100 milliseconds (.1 of a second), people make judgments on specific personality traits in other people when looking at their faces. You can well imagine the pressure this may put on someone who wants to create that perfect first impression during an interview!

But then, we know that not everything that glitters is gold!

For a moment, think of gold – it dazzles and shines! That is what a first impression may be like. What happens when the dazzle fades? Pure gold will still be of value, malleable, and stable. When you leave the room, what is left behind of your words and your attitude? Is there merit in what you said? Was your silence eloquent enough to convey the right message? That is true executive presence. It is not merely about what is seen. It is also about what is not apparent but becomes visible with time.

Mirror-mirror on the wall

When you look in the mirror what do you see? Are you happy at the image that looks back at you? Only you know the answer to this one. How would you rate yourself against some parameters like your speech, your tone, your communication style, the warmth that you exude, your confidence…would the rating be closer to your own satisfaction levels? Which areas would need some improvement? Note those down. You are your own judge here. Where would you like to begin?

Executive presence is not just about being seen. It is also about being noticed.

Your team, your manager, your colleagues, and your friends, all also notice how you make them feel. People notice if you are the one who delivers as promised. And people will remember if you did not stay true to the promise you made.

People also notice how you respond during tough situations. Do you stay calm? Or do you react instantaneously? Do you wear your emotions up your sleeve or are you the one who is aware and pauses to reflect on the best way to respond?

Executive presence therefore is not limited to mere physical presence. The mirror on the wall can be used to also reflect on your own strengths and capabilities.

Developing your executive presence can be a great strategy to get out of the messy-middle and eye an upward movement in your career.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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