What You Need to Have a Strong Executive Presence

What You Need to Have a Strong Executive Presence

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Business English




Practise speaking by describing this image

warm up

Answer the questions below. Listen to sample answers. Report back what you heard.

How do you feel about the progress of your professional career so far?

I feel pretty good about my career progress. I’ve learned a lot managing my team of five. It’s been challenging but rewarding. I know there’s a lot more to learn to be a director, but I’m excited about that journey. Each day at work teaches me something new, and I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.


I think a good manager is someone who listens to their team and understands their needs. It’s important to communicate clearly and help the team work together well. Being decisive and confident is key, but also being fair and supportive. I try to be this kind of boss. A good manager should always be learning and growing, just like their team.

What’s the difference between a manager and a leader in an organisation?

To me, a manager is someone who makes sure the team does their work right and on time. They organize tasks and solve problems. A leader, on the other hand, is more about inspiring and guiding the team towards bigger goals. They help the team see the bigger picture and grow together. A manager focuses on the day-to-day, while a leader looks at the future and motivates everyone to reach it.


part one


Read the article based on ““The New Rules of Executive Presence,” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett” from Harvard Business Review.

Key Elements for a Strong Executive Presence

1. Gravitas

Gravitas is about showing confidence and having a clear vision, similar to how a captain leads a ship. It’s essential to make decisions confidently and set a clear direction for your team. More importantly, gravitas now includes ensuring everyone in your team feels included and valued, just like every crew member on a ship plays a crucial role.

Illustration: Take John, for example. As an aspiring manager, he demonstrates gravitas by leading team meetings with confidence, making sure to hear and respect everyone’s input.

2. Strong Communication Skills

Effective communication requires clarity and directness. It is similar to navigating a ship through challenging waters. Today, this also involves being good at running virtual meetings. Leaders need to command attention of their audience. They also listen actively, much like a sailor who must be attuned to both the ship and the sea.

Illustration: John works on becoming a better manager by practicing clear communication and listening to his team members, ensuring he understands their perspectives and needs.

3. The Right Appearance

Today, a leader’s appearance is about authenticity more than conforming to traditional standards. This shift is like a ship being valued more for its capability than its looks. Leaders should be true to themselves, showcasing their genuine personality, just as a ship sails under its true colours.

Illustration: John embraces this approach by dressing professionally in a way that reflects his own style, showing his authenticity as a leader. He does not pretend to be somebody else. He is also not copying the behaviour or other leaders, but rather tries to build his own style. 

based on “The New Rules of Executive Presence,” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett”


Answer the questions about this article.

  • What does it mean to show gravitas?
  • What’s the other element of showing gravitas apart from clear vision?
  • How can one show gravitas in meetings?
  • What is good communication about?
  • What should aspiring leaders learn to do in the context of virtual meetings?
  • How can leader’s show right appearance?
  • What is being authentic about?


Alita and Pete are discussing this article during lunch at work. Read (role-play) this dialogue.

Kat: “So, Sven, what do you think about that article on executive presence? I found the part about gravitas really interesting.”

Sven: “Yeah, it made me think about how Marina handles our team. She’s like that captain they mentioned – always confident and clear about our goals.”

Kat: “True, and she’s really good at making everyone feel included. It’s like she knows every crew member’s worth.”

Sven: “Exactly! And her communication skills… Remember how she managed that crisis last month? She was clear and direct, just like steering a ship through rough seas.”

Kat: “I was impressed with that, too. She’s also great at virtual meetings. It’s like she’s commanding the ship, whether we’re in the same room or not.”

Sven: “Right. But what do you think about the part on appearance? Marina doesn’t really fit the traditional ‘executive’ look.”

Kat: “That’s what I admire about her. She’s authentic, and it’s refreshing. She dresses professionally, but in her own style. Like the article says, it’s not about the ship’s look, but its capability.”

Sven: “I hadn’t thought of it that way. You know, seeing Marina in action makes me want to improve my leadership skills. What about you? Ever thought of moving up to a management role?”

Kat: “I’m not sure. I like the idea of leading a team, but I’m still weighing it up. I guess I’m trying to figure out my own style of leadership.”

Sven: “Makes sense. I think you’d be great at it, though. You’ve got that natural ability to connect with people, just like Marina.”

Kat: “Thanks, Sven. That means a lot. I guess I have some thinking to do.”


part two


Complete the text about gravitas with the missing words. You may want to list to this text before you start filling in the gaps.


Do the same with the text about strong communication skills. You may want to listen to this text before you start the activity.


Choose either the topic of gravitas or strong communication skills. Prepare your own version of explanations what these concepts are. Present it to your teacher.




Pete, Sven and Kat are talking about their new boss, Margo. 

Read their dialogue. What do they admire about her?

Pete: “So, what do you guys think about Margo? She’s been our boss for a month now, right?”

Sven: “Yeah, and I’ve got to say, she really brings something new to the table. The way she carries herself… it’s like she’s born to lead. There’s this gravitas about her.”

Kat: “I agree. Like last week, when we had that issue with the client’s policy renewal. She was so composed, yet firm. That’s not easy in an insurance company like ours, with all the pressure.”

Pete: “True. And have you noticed her communication skills? It’s not just about giving orders. She really listens and makes sure everyone’s on the same page.”

Sven: “Absolutely. She handles meetings so well. It’s impressive how she balances being authoritative with being approachable. I feel like I can actually go to her with issues.”

Kat: “And it’s not just with us. Remember how she dealt with that angry client last Tuesday? She managed to calm him down and even got him to understand the policy better. That’s some skill.”

Pete: “Yeah, her ability to remain respectful and calm in difficult situations is something else. It’s like she diffuses tension just by being in the room.”

Sven: “I think it’s her experience. She knows the insurance business inside out, and it shows. Plus, her way of explaining complex stuff in simpler terms is a real asset.”

Kat: “It’s not just her skills, though. It’s her attitude. She treats everyone with respect, whether it’s a junior staff member or a top client.”

Pete: “Right. It’s refreshing to see that in a leader. Margo has this way of making you feel valued and heard. It’s no wonder the team’s morale seems higher lately.”

Sven: “She’s definitely setting a new standard here. I’m curious to see how her leadership will influence our department in the long run.”

Kat: “Me too. If the past month is anything to go by, I think we’re in for some positive changes under Margo’s leadership.”

discussion questions

Now discuss the questions below.

  • Can you describe a situation where showing gravitas is important?
  • Why do you think gravitas is important in a leader? Can you think of a leader who shows this quality?
  • What do you think makes someone a good communicator at work? Do you know someone who is a good communicator?
  • How has communication changed with virtual meetings? What skills do you think are important for communicating well online?
  • How important do you think a person’s appearance is in a professional setting? Should it matter as much as their skills?
  • Can you give an example of what ‘being authentic’ in your appearance might mean in a workplace? How do you balance professionalism with personal style?


Share your views and opinions here.

5 questions to guide your career choices

5 questions to guide your career choices

5 questions to guide your career choices
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Practise speaking by describing this image

warm up

Answer the questions below. 

  • How satisfied are you with the way your career is developing?
  • What do you like the most/the least about your current position?
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would you choose and why?

Alita and Pete are discussing the questions above. Read (role play) their dialogue. Check out all the language you might not know. 

Alita and Pete

Alita: “Yo Pete, how’s it going? I’ve been thinking a lot about my career lately, and I’m not sure if I’m in the right place.”

Pete: “What’s been on your mind, Alita? Are you having doubts about your current job?”

Alita: “Yeah, I just feel like I’m not challenged enough in my role. And I don’t really like some of the tasks I have to do. But I don’t know what else I could see myself doing.”

Pete: “I hear ya. It can be tough to figure out what you want to do with your career. But let me ask you, what do you like the most about your job?”

Alita: “I love the people I work with. They’re all really cool and we get along great. But that’s about it, to be honest.”

Pete: “Well, that’s something. And what about the least? What don’t you like about your job?”

Alita: “I just feel like I’m not learning anything new, and I’m not contributing to the company in a meaningful way. It’s just a dead-end job, you know?”

Pete: “I understand where you’re coming from, but don’t give up hope just yet. If you could have any job in the world, what would you choose and why?”

Alita: “I’ve always been interested in sustainability and the environment. So if I could have any job, I’d want to work in a company that is making a real impact in that area. I want to feel like I’m making a difference.”

Pete: “That’s great, Alita. It’s important to find a job that aligns with your values and passions. Keep exploring and don’t be afraid to take risks. You’ll find the right path for you.”


key language

Check the words and expressions in this Quizlet. Do you know them all? Do you know how to pronounce them?



Listen to the recording of the article. What is the main idea behind it?



Read the article you have just heard. Play the recording again and follow the speaker when you read. 

5 Questions to Guide Your Career Choices

Careers evolve and unfold over many years — even decades. So how can you be sure that you’re on the right path and you’ll achieve your definition of success? To take control of your future, step back and reflect on your present. Ask yourself the following five questions:

How fulfilled do I feel? This is often about whether you’re able to express your values at work. Identify what’s most important to you and then consider, “On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the ideal, how well am I able to express this value in my job?”

How am I learning and growing? To what extent are you building competence or expertise in your sector or function? What competencies do you want to develop further in the year ahead?

Am I headed toward a long-term goal? While everyone hates the question “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” stepping back to figure out a broad vision can help you pursue opportunities more proactively, versus reactively. You might ask yourself “What do I want in my (work) life in three to five years?” which is a more manageable chunk of time.

What seeds can I plant today that will benefit me tomorrow? Career success is often the result of the cumulative effects of small, regular actions.

What relationships do I need to build to help me realize my vision? You can’t do it alone, no matter what the “it” is. Given your goals, who are the people who can help you get there?

This tip is adapted from “Ask These 5 Questions to Decide Your Next Career Move,” by Rebecca Zucker


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Answer the questions below. Refer to the information from the text and your own experience and opinions. 

  • How can someone be sure they are on the right career path?
  • What is the importance of expressing one’s values in a job?
  • Why is it important to consider building competence and expertise in one’s sector or function?
  • How can thinking about a long-term goal help in pursuing opportunities?
  • What is the significance of planting seeds for future career success?
  • Why are relationships important for realizing one’s career vision?
  • How does the author suggest someone should evaluate their level of fulfillment in their job?
  • How does the text suggest that one should approach setting short-term and long-term career goals?
  • What are the 5 questions that someone should ask themselves to guide their career choices?


Practise some language for talking about being satisfied. 

Create some sentences with these words and idioms. How can you use them to describe your level of satisfaction?

Listen to the model answer provided by Pete. 



Cast your vote in this poll. 

Which of the five questions from this lesson do you find the most interesting and insightful?
6 votes



How satisfied are you at work?