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Building Executive Presence - Storytelling for Professional Success

Executive Presence

I’ve received an increase in requests from companies and law firms seeking help for high potential leaders to improve their “executive presence”. When I inquire into what they mean by executive presence I get responses that are all over the map.

I seek clarification by asking the HR person or actual potential executive coaching client to describe the leader’s current behavior and what cultivating more executive presence would look like in behavioral terms. The behaviors range from being more confident to being a better storyteller. People’s experience of executive presence can be very different

I’ve found that the term executive presence can mean different things to different people. Asking penetrating questions to gain more clarity for both the client and executive coach is critical to the executive coaching process when coaching a leader to improve their executive presence.

Storytelling for Professional Success

The art of crafting and telling a good story is a key element in leadership communication skills and a vital part of building executive presence. Cold, hard facts don’t inspire people to change. Straightforward analysis won’t excite anyone about a goal.

Effective leadership requires stories that fire imaginations and stir souls. Our brains are wired to pay attention to stories. We quickly process information when it’s delivered in the form of a story, and we personalize it when we relate it to our own similar experiences.

General Electric’s Jack Welch excelled at this skill, as do Apple’s Steve Jobs and many other successful leaders. They know how to motivate by engaging people’s emotions through storytelling.

A narrative magnetically and biochemically draws audiences into the process, compelling them to visualize the picture you’re painting with your words. Stories help your staff make the connections among theory, facts, real life and real people.

Consider the following story options:

  • A negative story, a failure, a lesson learned
  • A success story, especially in the face of difficulties
  • A case study
  • History and mythology
  • A deeply personal story (a tragedy or rags-to-riches example)

When crafting a story, include as many specific details as possible to make it real to your audience. Be brief, and get to the point. Understatement often carries a bigger impact. Transport the listener by describing events in emotional terms. Keep it simple. Learn to use metaphors and analogies to summarize. Personalize your story with names, even if they need to be altered.

The more authentic your examples are, the more your stories will resonate with people. In real life, nothing is black or white. Real life is full of paradoxes and uncertainties. Tell your stories to make a point and deliver a lesson that has true value.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development for emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching to help leaders develop executive presence?  Leaders with highly developed executive presence tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to fully engage employees and customers.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I getting better at storytelling for improving my executive presence and professional success?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching for collaborative leaders who create sustainable businesses.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create a culture where all employees are intrinsically motivated and fully engaged. You can become a leader with executive presence who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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