Author Sylvia Ann Hewlett is a woman to be reckoned with. She’s an economist, professor, and founder of a New York-based think tank, The Center for Talent Innovation. Hewlett is also the author of 11 books about work, talent management, and success. With all those credentials, you wouldn’t think that one of the most memorable stories in her book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success , would be snort-out-loud funny.
In the book’s prologue, she shares how she blew her interview at Oxford, all because she took her mother’s advice and wore a jacket with a fox fur collar—and not just a touch of fur, but the entire fox—tail, beady eyes, claws, and all. Luckily for Hewlett, and for us, she learned from that mistake, took note of what the other candidates wore, and showed up for her next meeting at Cambridge in an interview-appropriate pleated skirt and sweater. The rest, as they say, is history.
Executive Presence is required reading for anyone who’s on his or her way to the top, especially those who think if they just put their head down and work hard, they’ll be rewarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although knowing our business is one key to success, something more is required: executive presence, or EP. Hewlett defines executive presence as “a heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity” that convinces others that we’re “the real deal.” Notably, she adds that this quality is an amalgam of qualities that “telegraph” that you’re in charge, or you deserve to be.
Based on extensive research conducted by her organization, including a national survey involving 4,000 college-educated professionals, as well as 40 focus groups and interviews with senior leaders, Hewlett and her team learned that executive presence rests on three pillars: how we act (gravitas), how we speak (communication), and how we look (appearance). The ratios may change according to our industry, she writes, but all three are required. And, as the author discovered, all the gravitas in the world won’t compensate for going to an
interview while wearing a fox collar that stares back at the people on the panel who are doing the interviewing.
This book is much more than a treatise on “What Not to Wear.” Hewlett is a brilliant writer and a scholar, and this book is replete with solid, annotated references with data to support the premise that executive presence is required to enter the C-suite. With wit and warmth, she offers practical, actionable advice about how to manage those elusive three pillars of gravitas, communication, and appearance without sacrificing the essence of who we are. This book will give you the edge you need to take that next step—wearing just the right shoes.
Vickie Austin is a business and career coach, founder of CHOICES Worldwide, and author of Circles of Gold: Honoring Your Network for Business and Career Success. She has spoken at ANI and is a frequent speaker at HFMA and HERe chapters around the country. Email her at [email protected] .