Feedback & Executive Presence: Building Your Foundation of Confidence

“A crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind.”  – Chinese Proverb

Let’s be honest:  real feedback often generates a crisis response within us.  We can talk about how it is a gift, and it truly is, but in the moment, every fiber of our ego screams in resistance to the information.   We get angry, we put up mental walls, we feel self-righteous in our “reasons” and come up with a million excuses as to why we do what we do.  None of this changes the fact that often, the feedback is true.  And the stronger the resistance, the more likely the feedback has hit upon a truth.   It feels awful.

The first time I remember getting painful feedback was from my father.  Apparently when I was about 10, I was a complainer, because he sat me down one day and told me that I should not be talking constantly about things that I didn’t like or was feeling.  He said that it was ok to mention once that you have a headache, but to continue to bring it up is a turn off and makes people less likely to want to be around you.  I remember the residual feelings of both hurt and bewilderment.  The bewilderment came from having to change my behavior without a map or blueprint.  A day or two later, I had a deep pain in my side (probably from climbing under the merry-go round in the park) and while I didn’t complain, I did what kids do:  walked around in obvious pain, limping or something to get attention until my dad took pity on me and explained further the difference between complaining and discussing.  That eased some of the emotional hurt and helped me to better understand the difference.

A few years ago, I had a similar painful feedback experience.  During my career transition, I asked one of my instructors to act as a coach for some career feedback.  In one conversation, he asked me point blank why I always laughed nervously when trying to make a point.  Ugh.  I had not been conscious of doing that, or that extent of power that took from my presence.  This small piece of feedback helped immensely, and it opened awareness about executive presence, personal power, and further led to review of other similar behaviors.  I was signaling a lack of confidence in my own thoughts and ideas, and couldn’t see the impact it made on the perceptions of others.

Executive Presence

As an emerging leader fascinated with applying the concepts of coaching & leadership in the workplace, I dove into one of my favorite resources, the book FYI:  For Your Improvement – A Guide for Developing and Coaching.  This brilliant book is broken down into over 60 competencies.  Examples include:

  • Conflict Management
  • Decision Quality
  • Developing Direct Reports
  • Boss Relationships
  • Organizational Agility

Each competency provides an overview of the behavior continuum, from unskilled to skilled to overuse of the skill.  It also provides a summary, causes, and remedies to improve in use of this skill.  It then suggests ideas for in-place assignments and other suggested readings.  It is by far one of the best coaching resources out there.

I dove into Competency 9:  Command Skills.  After reviewing the continuum, it became clear that I had some work to do.


  • More comfortable following
  • May avoid conflict and crises, be unwilling to take the heat, have problems with taking a tough stand
  • Might be laid back and quiet
  • Too concerned about what others may say or think
  • May worry too much about being liked
  • May not be cool under pressure
  • May not display a sense of urgency

Most of these applied at some level.  Already in the process of retooling several areas of my life, much of the inner work being done was complementary.  I knew that I disliked conflict, that my preference was to make people feel comfortable, and that leadership often takes the form of behaviors that develop people –  the opposite of making them comfortable.  A lot of the work during this time was rebuilding my foundation; essential in providing real structure for my own self-confidence.

These ideas were extremely helpful and gave me the needed insights and permission to start behaving differently.  Here’s what helped:

For facing criticism with courage:

  • “Leaders have to be internally secure.”
  • “People will always say it should have been done differently. Listen to them, but be skeptical.”
  • “Don’t let criticism prevent you from taking the lead. Build up your heat shield.”

For facing a difficult issue:

  • “Taking a tough stand demands utter confidence in what you’re saying along with the humility that you might be wrong – one of life’s paradoxes.”
  • “To prepare to take the lead on a tough issue, work on your stand through mental interrogation until you can clearly state in a few sentences what your stand is and why you hold it. Build the business case.”

For enhancing leadership presence:

  • “Leading takes presence. You have to look and sound like a leader.  Voice is strong.  Eye contact.  Confidence.  Look and dress the part.”  (Keep in mind the importance of context.)
  • Presentation skills are very important – if you need to grow in this area, practice.

Good Feedback = Growth

Without the intrusive or “earthquake” feature of real feedback jolting us into awareness, we can live our entire lives in (seemingly blissful) ignorance.  However, the impact a positive change can have on our lives makes it essential that we learn to live in this temporary discomfort; seeing a part of our behavior as others see it; consciously deciding if and how to change.

All competencies exist along a continuum.  For those of us seekers and learners, the work is never done, and satisfaction can be taken along the way for the improvements that we make, while striving for the next level.


Comments always welcome!  If you have questions or a story to tell about developing confidence and presence, please share it!  Together we can continue to help each other grow and build.

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