Lessons from Episode 10

Polishing Up: What to do when you lack polish

what to do when your executive presence lacks polish

Perhaps one of the most common, vague, and even hurtful pieces of feedback that leads a client to hire a coach is, “You need a little polishing.” It’s vague because the giver of the feedback can’t quite put his finger on the problem—he simply realizes that something about this individual isn’t where it should be. The recipient of the feedback tends to be equally baffled. “I need polishing? What does that mean? I’m not a piece of furniture!”

In such a situation, my role is to uncover the root of the feedback so that we can work on it together. My approach involves assessing the client on the following four questions:

1. How do you engage with others?

Have you ever encountered a stranger and felt drawn to that individual for largely unconscious reasons? Some people have a magnetic aura that draws others in. If you could bottle that mysterious combination, you’d be the most engaging person in the room. Consider how you come across when talking with people, even in casual conversations. Do you make eye contact? Are you smiling and showing you’re sincerely interested in what the other person tells you? Do you show that you hear what the speaker is staying? Do you use his name several times in the conversation? Do you show empathy and appreciation? The way you engage is a crucial part of coming across as polished. Avoid being distracted, glancing at your phone, or jumping ahead in the conversation.

2. How do you dress and present yourself?
You may not be terribly interested in fashion, but if you plan to rise in your career, you need to consider whether your clothing and grooming are compatible with the role you aspire to. You don’t need to stay on top of all the latest trends—well-made garments that fit you appropriately and flatter your shape will always be in style. Staying on top of basic grooming is also important. If you look scruffy, are badly in need of a haircut, or have poor eating habits, it distracts from the more important messages coming out of your mouth.

3. What do your facial expressions tell others?

Your facial expressions will make or break you. If you’re under consideration for a leadership position, other leaders are evaluating how you react to various situations. Controlling your expressions can be challenging for some people. Start by asking people around you—trusted friends or family members—for their feedback on your expressions. Are you open and engaging or closed off and cold? Practice in the mirror so that you know what others are seeing as you process various thoughts and emotions.

4. How do you communicate?

Your communication style is every bit as important as your message at all levels in business. However, a poor communication style can be especially damaging to your reputation as a leader. You may have all the right answers, but if you can’t express them in a way that helps others to see things your way, you’re going to struggle to gain buy-in for your ideas. You should be confident and accountable when communicating. If someone disagrees with you, don’t get defensive or begin to feel like a victim. Listen to her point of view and respond respectfully. There are thousands of books and courses out there for improving your communication skills. Here are a few that I’ve learned from and highly recommend:

The reasons behind a perceived lack of polish almost always fall into one (if not several) of the four categories above. When I work with clients, I get their thoughts, as well as feedback from their colleagues and superiors. When there’s a major disconnect between the individual’s perceptions and those of his or her peers, that’s always a red flag.

I recommend selecting a role model from other successful leaders in your organization. You don’t have to ask that individual to be your mentor or even tell him that you’re watching. Simply observe to see what you can do differently. What worked for you as an individual contributor, and even as a manager, may need some tweaks to bring you success with senior leadership. Marshall Goldsmith best sums it up in the title of his bestseller, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, another book I highly recommend for anyone in need of polishing.

Anna Wildermuth is an Executive Coach and Image Consultant who helps executive clients enhance their credibility, strengthen their relationship-building skills, and understand the many sensitivities and social cues that exist in business. 


Looking for more? Listen to Episode 10, where Diana talks with Anna Wildermuth about how to create an executive presence. New episodes of Talent Champions are released every other Thursday. Subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.