by Achim Nowak

How to Exude EXECUTIVE PRESENCE Without Trying Too Hard

June 29, 2020

A lazy Saturday afternoon. I lounge on my sofa and flip through the pages of an old issue of Architectural Digest. Settle on a story about two designers and their house in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, half an hour from Marrakesh.


That’s how the owners describe the style of their home.


Love this term. It has instant meaning for me. Not trying to show off. Not intent on dazzling. Trusts simplicity. Doesn’t put on a show.

Let’s relate this to how we humans show up in the world. The choices you and I make, intentional or not, in every social interaction we have. These days, the choices you make about how you present yourself in a visual virtual world.

I want this program to be a Wow, Steven, the VP of Learning and Development at a commercial mortgage company, says to me as we discuss an upcoming training event.

Sparkle, impress, be memorable. That’s how I hear his request for the Wow.

We love Amanda but she just needs to be a little more polished, Miriam, a VP of HR at a global manufacturing enterprise, says to me as we discuss a coaching opportunity.

I coach folks on Executive Presence, and in my conversations around presence the word polished is often thrown into the mix. It makes me squeamish, every time. Many of us are too polished. We work for the Wow. Sometimes consciously, more often not. Usually we work for it a little too hard.

I un-polish folks, that’s my private little joke. With a little bit of craft thrown in.

“Yes, Anti-Wow”

A conversation with a cab driver in Chicago. I used to be a housing inspector, he says to me. I have inspected hundreds of houses. And then he adds: Don’t let anyone tell you that houses don’t have energy.

The house in Morocco. It makes an impression without going for the dazzle. It trusts simplicity. It has easy energy. That’s the anti-Wow. Think of yourself as the house you present to others. The house that hopefully invites others in. Your client, your boss, peer, friend? Invites with its simplicity and energy.

This Anti-Wow stuff is not easy. Most of us have been primed – implicitly and explicitly – to go for the Wow. So consider the following Do’s and Don’ts as you calibrate your own Anti-Wow:

The Don’ts:

  • Do not strive to project a perfect look. Perfect wording. Perfect manners. You don’t want to be the over-decorated house. The one we may like at first glance. Until we can’t wait to get the heck out of there and go to a more casual joint.
  • Do not strive so hard to be liked. Be likeable, yes. Be kind and compassionate, yes. Be warm, yes. But if you have to work at being liked you’re not close to any kind of Wow.
  • Do not strive to be perky and upbeat. You may think of it as sending out positive energy. We may experience you as fake.
  • Do not strive to wow me. Plain and simple. Do not try to push, cajole, force or win me over. Your overly explicit efforts to dazzle, to impress – they will not wow me. They will merely look like you’re trying too hard.

The Do’s:

  • Channel energy. That’s it. That’s all it ever is. The energy of what excites you, what matters to you, what you believe in, what stirs your imagination. Channel it so we feel it.
  • There is no true impact on others without energy. Not having energy, or let me be clear, not being able to access our energy, instantly inhibits our social impact.
  • We access energy by cultivating habits and practices that tap into the energy in our body. Nothing terribly mystical. Yoga. Tai Chi. Swimming. Running. Dancing. Breathing, lots and lots of breathing. And more breathing. Habit means we do it often. We keep ourselves energized.
  • Let the energy out. Don’t push it. Don’t force it out. Don’t give it the extra-oomph. But fill it with your convictions. And let it out.

You are the house. I am the house. We are vessels of energy. Pure, unfettered energy is the anti-Wow. It’s the real deal.

The “Anti-Wow” is a quiet Wow. It’s an honest, effortless Wow. It wows by not trying to wow. It wows by trusting itself. It wows by not rushing, not trying too hard.

And it leaves a lasting impression. Always does.

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