Nice and Smart is Not Enough at C-Level | Case study: Coaching for Executive Presence at a Tech Company

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 6:10 PM | Anonymous

Contributed by: Leadership Coach Kristiina Hiukka, M.A. PCC, CPCC


Although often hard to define, executive presence is expected of V- and C-level professionals. People say “you just know when people have it or not”. Leaders know they must embody executive presence to influence others and drive results. It is the ability to operate, communicate and lead - even under pressure - with poise, confidence, decisiveness and dignity.

When the CEO of a software design firm hired me for Susan, he told me that “Susan (not her real name) is brilliant but needs more executive presence to be taken seriously as a C-level executive, and potentially as the future CEO.”


Based on the conversations with Susan and 360 interviews with several people around her, we were able to identify three areas of focus for our coaching:

1) Ability to express executive presence.

2) Manage the work-load.

3) Take a clear stance and make strategic decisions.

The assessment (Core Value Index) helped us understand her motivations and revealed that she was well suited for her current position in the controller and operations functions because she tends to conserve, analyze and inform. In addition, we also discovered that she is even more of an “innovator” – a person who loves problem-solving. This means that she is energized by solving complex challenges but has less patience for process and interest in selling.

Over the 9 months of coaching sessions (weekly or bi-weekly phone or Skype) she became clear on her leadership philosophy and principles and how those related to her company’s vision and mission. She clarified her personal values and found an authentic way to express them. In the sessions she practiced “tough conversations” when she had to lay off people and how to communicate her vision.


At the end, I conducted another set of interviews. All of the respondents reported positive changes in Susan’s executive presence. Most concluded that she would be able to step up as a CEO. They also said the following: “She has more presence and confidence as a leader.” “She has always been a strong leader but now she handles tough situations with a new confidence.” “She is decisive with her feedback and intention. You always know where she stands.” “Everyone looks to Susan for inspiration and guidance. She is very respected. She can lead from everywhere – she is always present.”

I also asked Susan to assess the impact of coaching. She reported that she is now more successful in

1) Embodying and expressing her executive presence (being confident about her leader’s voice).

2) Managing her work-load (delegating and letting others lead).

3) Making strategic – and hard - decisions (e.g. providing direction during lay offs).

Leadership Coach Kristiina Hiukka, M.A. PCC, CPCC / 425.462.6613