Rohit Bassi

Jun 19, 2020


Leadership executive presence is a blanket term for a range of qualities found in outstanding leaders. The song by Mike and The Mechanics called Living years has a wonderful line. It says “you can listen as well as you hear”. The line of this song just sums one of the crucial qualities of having a high sense of executive presence.

Leaders with high sense of executive presence are able to command attention, project confidence and be heard above others. When people with executive presence enter a room, others recognise their leadership before they have even spoken. Leadership executive presence is not about being confident and shouting louder than others. Emotional wisdom, intelligence and communication are three core components. When it comes to communication the art of deep listening, is a key trait of those with wholesome leadership executive presence.


Going back to the line “you can listen as well as you hear” has a very profound meaning and it reminds me about the about the Chinese symbol for hearing, or shall I say deep listening. The Chinese symbol for listening is made up of six distinct words. Only when these six words are integrated it describes what we call in English compassionate, empathic active listening.

These six words are:

Deep Listening

1.  You: When someone is talking with you, remember, as the listener to play an equal role for the communication to be wholesome. When you are not playing your part the message may get confused or lost, thus coming across as unwholesome.

2. Eyes: Listen with your eyes. Many say the eyes are the windows to the soul. It is crucial to maintain healthy eye contact as you listen, and observe the physiology and body language of the speaker. This will give you the opportunity to pick many more things. This enhances your communication as you become much more observant and genuinely show interest in the speaker.

3. Undivided Attention: Give the speaker your undivided attention. This means removing all distractions such as emails, phones, laptops and any other thing you deem a distraction. Never become distracted by other people or by technology. The speaker needs to be given 100% attention. 

4. Heart: Listen with your heart which would require you to tap into your emotional wisdom and emotional intelligence. Be open to the speaker's opinion and their logic even if it differs from yours. Give time and take your time to truly comprehend the speaker's viewpoint before responding.

5. King: Treat the speaker like royalty. Imagine that they are the most important person in the world and give them the respect and attention that they deserve.

6. Ear: Finally listen with your ears. Take time to listen to the exact words, phrases and patterns of the speech of the speaker. It is important to be aware of the pitch tone, speed and volume of the voice as it gives you the opportunity to be mindful with your communication.

Leadership executive presence from the Chinese symbol for hearing or listening is simply about integrating the brain, heart and body. So, you are not just hearing the voice, you are actually listening to the body language and feelings of the person as well.

Are you actively, empathetically and with compassion listening or are you just using your ears to hear? Is your brain, heart and whole-body integrated? Your poise, body language and eye contact need to clearly indicate you are paying and giving attention, listening to the speaker. Some with a high sense of leadership executive presence could become an amazing leader. Such leaders are great listeners because of three practices:

1. Success Through Others

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” – Bernard Baruch, American financier and presidential advisor

Success is rarely built on your own – it requires education, and you can only become educated if you are willing to listen and learn. Even once you have become successful, this does not mean that your learning is complete.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her 2005 book “Team of Rivals”, notes how Abraham Lincoln appointed a number of political adversaries when he was elected to the presidency.

She said: “By selecting men who he knew disagreed with him or differed from his own platform, he assured himself that he would be confronted with legitimate challenges to his ideas, rather than finding himself in a pool of yes-men.”

Flexibility in ideas and the ability to listen to other standpoints helps any leader to continue to learn and develop, as well as to keep the people hierarchically below them happy. Being surrounded by a team of ‘yes-men’ or refusing to listen to the viewpoints of others means that you are only going to inspire the people that already agree with you.

Listening is also an important part of emotional intelligence and builds engagement with others. In the workplace, engagement offers employees a sense of fulfilment, allowing them to feel that their ideas are important and that they are a necessary cog in the larger machine. Engaged employees work faster and put in additional effort, as well as being happy to stay in their jobs for a longer time.

2. Give Full Attention

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  - Stephen R. Covey ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

The most obvious way to be a good listener is to actually focus on listening. Pay attention to the person that is speaking and give them your full attention. Don’t attempt to multitask, make notes or check emails. Make eye contact with the person that is speaking.

Not only does repeating back what has been said show that you were listening, it also helps you to clarify anything you might not have understood properly. You should ask questions to get the speaker to elaborate if there is anything that you don’t understand or feel would benefit the group as a whole.

3. Practise Openness

Active listening is best practised when you don’t have other worries or concerns pushing in. Clear a space and hold a meeting specific to the issue, with just that one person or a whole team, but make sure that the time is dedicated just to this issue and not to let people stray off track.

Rather than asking questions or paraphrasing, stay silent and show the speaker that you are listening without saying a word. Keep your body language open, your eyes up and fixed on the speaker, and nod at salient points. Keep your eyes off your phone or other people.

People will say things that you disagree with from time to time. Be prepared to listen to their points in full even if you don’t agree. You will have your opportunity to talk back and you would expect them to listen to your points, so you should give them the same consideration. No one knows everything, so take every chance to benefit from this learning opportunity.

To conclude Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher and he had a great lesson for us on executive presence. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia and lived in Rome until his banishment when he went to Nicopolis in north-western Greece for the rest of his life. Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline.

One of his greatest quotes which is so much relevant in this day and age is “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”.

Written by:

Rohit Bassi


Jun 19, 2020