How to Show Executive Presence

April 2, 2024


Want to be seen as a capable, confident leader? Alicia Fairclough, founder of EA How To, shares ways you can exude executive energy and prove your value as a strategic business partner. 

Recorded at EA Ignite Fall 2023 and produced by the American Society of Administrative Professionals - ASAP. Learn more and submit a listener question at

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Leah Warwick: Hi, everyone. I'm Leah Warwick, and you're listening to "The Admin Edge." This season was recorded at EA Ignite Fall 2023 in Austin, Texas. I hope you enjoy this first episode of season two... This episode centers on executive presence, and my guest, Alicia Fairclough, is an expert on this and so much more. Alicia is the founder and creator of EA How To, a global community of high-achieving executive personal and virtual assistants. Alicia, thank you for joining me today.

Alicia Fairclough: Thank you so much for having me, Leah.


Leah Warwick: Let's get started with executive presence, exactly: what is it, and how does one develop it? 

Alicia Fairclough: Executive presence is sometimes called executive energy, and it basically refers to the combination of behaviors and attitudes that allow leaders to project confidence, inspire and influence others, command attention, and to maintain employees under pressure. It's a combination of your communication skills, your emotional intelligence, and your ability to project a strong image as a leader.

So much of the advice on executive presence revolves around superficial things like the way you dress, the way you carry yourself. Look, those things matter and refer to the old "dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have." The way you present yourself physically certainly matters, but it's really about demonstrating confidence in what you do; so, allowing people to see that you are a leader in the organization and that you are capable. It's doing your job properly. It's being somebody in the office who knows how to get things done, and building your reputation as a person who is capable. 


I find that people who need to tell everyone how capable they are, are not the most capable people. So you shouldn't need to shout about how capable you are; it should be evident in your performance. But having those conversations with your exec, your leadership team, whoever it is that you report to, that's really important.

I often talk about an exec that I had before I went full-time on EA How To. Asher and I would meet every two weeks for 45 minutes to an hour, and we would not discuss the day-to-day happenings in the business. It was never a conversation about that. It was about my development, how we were working together, and what we needed from each other to get the job done. And those conversations are the kinds of conversations that allow them to see you as somebody who is more than just helpful to have around, someone who is a true extension of them and partner in the business. But it takes time. You can't expect to walk into the office and immediately be seen that way by a leadership team who have never viewed executive assistants or admin assistants in that way, so it takes time to build your reputation. 


Leah Warwick: How do you, some might ask, get to that place of also understanding the business and being a business partner? How do you carve out space and time for that?

Alicia Fairclough: I found that I needed to invest time wherever I could in having one-on-one meetings with other people in the business who were very senior, who could help me understand what they do and what they needed from other people within the business, so talking to them about what their pain points were: What do you do? What would help you do it better? What is going well? What isn't going well?

So, going and having a meeting with chief product, CFO, HR, marketing, whoever it is, just going and becoming familiar with those different parts of the business and what they do. Because often businesses are quite siloed, and one of the biggest frustrations for teams is that they feel like nobody really understands what they do and how hard they're working. 


We all know that feeling. So if you can go and make yourself known to those people, and show them that you want to learn and that you want to understand, that's giving you a really good oversight of the business, and no one's in a better position to do that than an EA. Because it would be quite normal for you to go and have that oversight, to just go and meet with people and find out more about what they do. So, it's really taking initiative. There's not a huge number of hours in a day, but you'll find them to go and have those. It doesn't have to be long meetings. [It could be] 20-minute or 30-minute meetings with other people in the business to find out more about their role and what they need from others. 

I think this is a natural evolution of the role of the executive assistant. If you go way back to kind of our origins, we're talking about scribes in Ancient Mesopotamia all the way through to the introduction of women in the workplace, which was really during the 1700s in the Industrial Revolution with the invention of the typewriter. Women were believed to have long and nimble fingers that were more suitable than men for typing, and that was what got them into the workplace. 


Once there was the introduction of the computer, that freed up their time, because typing is very time-consuming and that was a full-time job. It was no longer a full-time job, so they were able to take on more. With every introduction of a new technology, assistants have been able to take on more and more, from being a secretary to the assistant to now the executive assistant. 

I think with the introduction of AI that's our next big revolution, and it's changing what we all do. For instance, calendar management used to be a much bigger part of the executive assistant role. Now you have so many AI tools that will automatically find time. People can send out an automatic poll to find out when other people are available and just click on a button: "Yeah, we're all available then—and it's automatically scheduled.”

The more time that's being freed up, the more you're going to expect to fill that time with other things, hence wanting to be more of a strategic business partner, because EAs are very capable people. They're highly intelligent. They're highly motivated. They know that they have more to offer than inbox management and calendar management, and they want to be involved in the business. 


Now, thanks to all of the different technologies we have access to, they're able to do those things. So I think this is just a natural progression of the EA role that we have always had. 

Leah Warwick: We do have a listener question that is related to executive presence and being that strategic business partner. This is from executive assistant Erin, and she writes: "In my company, they have a different approach to using admin support. Rather than becoming a partner with my executive, they want me to excel in other common admin activities: minutes-taking, being a sounding board, calendaring, helping out other groups wherever needed, keeping busy with meaningful work all the time, identifying areas of expense reduction, and so on. How can I exhibit and model executive presence while honoring what's being asked of me? I've tried multiple times to take it to the next level, such as sitting in on many of the same meetings as my primary executive, but have been firmly and politely declined."


Alicia Fairclough: This is such an interesting question to me, and I think a huge key is in the latter half of the question, which is where Erin said: "How can I exhibit executive presence while honoring what's being asked of me?" And I would argue that you exhibit executive presence by honoring what has been asked of you. She said that they have a different approach. It doesn't sound like a different approach to me. That sounds like a very normal admin or EA role. I'd say it's actually more unusual still to be considered a strategic partner in the business. It's becoming more common, and it's what most of us are aiming for, but everything that Erin has described there is a really typical EA or admin assistant role.


To become more of a strategic partner in the business, if you've been politely but firmly declined, it may be that there isn't a need for that in this particular business. Not every business wants or requires, or even has a need for their administrative staff to become a strategic partner in the business, whether that's for better or worse. I might argue that they probably should and it would be a good thing, but they might not see it that way, and that's okay. You can still demonstrate executive energy or executive presence in doing your job really well, showing them what you're capable of, and gradually asking to take on other projects. 

You might notice something in the business that you think you have a talent for, and you could have a one-on-one when you're setting your goals for the next quarter, for instance, and say, "I'd really like to lead this project. What do you think about that?" And take it one step at a time. The other thing is, all is not lost, because even if you're doing all of these things, it's practice for your next role where they might want you to be a strategic partner in the business. It sounds like Erin is actually doing all of the right things. You can't force them to want to see you as a strategic partner. 


All you can do is keep putting your best foot forward, doing your job properly, and taking on additional tasks that you think you can provide value in and just seeing how it goes. But, ultimately, you can't force them to want you to be a strategic partner, and all of this practice will help you in your next role. 

Leah Warwick: Thank you for listening to "The Admin Edge," produced by the American Society of Administrative Professionals. Original music and audio editing by Warwick Productions. If you liked this podcast, please leave us a five-star review wherever you listen to podcasts, and subscribe. If you want to send a listener question, you can submit via the form on our website at

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