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Book review: Executive Presence

Posted by Katherine McConnell on June 23, 2014

Author and economist Sylvia Ann Hewlitt will launch her latest book with a discussion and signing at Ohio State University's Gerlach Hall, 8:30 am, Tuesday, June 24. The free event is sponsored by Cardinal Health with support from the Fisher College of Business and the Central Ohio Diversity Consortium. 

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

6/2014, HarperCollins

240 pages

Reviewed by CHRISTINA NAPOLI

You go to work every day, do your job, go home, and repeat. Time passes and you begin to feel stagnant. Why hasn’t your boss been putting you on the big projects? Why is it taking so long to move up the leadership ladder? You hit the numbers and you have good ideas, but is that enough?

Sylvia Ann Hewlett says it is not.

Hewlett, founder and CEO of nonprofit think-tank the Center for Talent Innovation, says qualification is not sufficient on its own to attain the top executive positions. Instead, making the c-suite  depends on your ability to command a room. In order to get your great ideas heard, you first have to get your audience to listen.

Using a CTI study involving 4,000 college-educated professionals and 268 senior executives, Hewlett concludes that you also need to excel in gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak), and with your appearance (how you look). These three things combined are the making of executive presence.

One of the most appealing aspects of Executive Presence is the clear and practical manner in which Hewlett explains how to improve your own “EP”. Over three separate chapters, she describes the qualities, the common mistakes, and useful tips that can be used to enhance and polish one’s gravitas, communication, and appearance.

She says even “ordinary mortals can crack the EP code.” Perfecting your appearance, for instance, can give your boss a better view of your skillset, as it removes unnecessary distractions. Very simple, but very effective.

Hewlett provides success stories to back up her assertions. Margaret Thatcher, for instance, was not originally a flawless public speaker but sought professional help from a Hollywood voice coach to enhance her charisma.

The evidence Hewlett presents is immense and includes luminaries like President Obama, Sheryl Sandburg, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, along with corporations like Intel, Morgan Stanley, and Deloitte. Hewlett’s own background, along with third-party evidence, lends to the book’s credibility.

In addition, Hewlett  provides a refreshing perspective on the biases women and minorities face in the workplace, which she believes most business books written by men smoothly glide over.

As a woman, do you feel torn between being too aggressive or too weak? Hewlett uses Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer as an example of how decisiveness in the workplace (the gravitas quality inherent in c-level executives) can be seen as a negative in women.

As a minority, do you struggle with standing out too much or too little? In the chapters “Walking the Tightrope” and “Authenticity vs. Conformity,” Hewlett unveils how these issues can be destructive to the EP of these labor streams--and the rise of women and minorities to high executive positions--in general.

Executive Presence is truly a great read, especially if you are career driven. This is a book where you can use the tips that are relevant to you and your career goals. As Hewlett says, not everyone’s EP will be the same, nor should it be.

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