Use this Currency to Distinguish Yourself as a Leader

Good Boss or Bad Boss?


Executive Presence blog imageLast week I wrote about executive presence gone bad. Think back through the best and worst bosses from your favorite television shows and movies.  Last week at the 8 O’clock Career Club, we were in search of the right words to describe the elusive concept of executive presence in both good bosses and bad ones. Using some of the best and worst TV/film bosses, we managed to find some very descriptive words.


After reviewing an assortment of clips, we built a list of behaviors and traits that we observed which constituted executive presence (separate from effective leadership). The bosses and shows we reviewed include:
  • Jack Underwood (Kevin Spacey), “House of Cards”
  • Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), “The Devil Wears Prada”
  • Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), “Lost”
  • Blake (Alec Baldwin), “Glengarry Glen Ross”
  • Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), “Apollo 13”


(To request links to the brief clips we viewed, email us with the subject line: Executive Presence – Good and Bad Clips)



The idea was to observe a variety of leaders in a diverse range of settings, whether it be offices in various industries, or in life-and-death scenarios.  By brainstorming a robust list of traits and behaviors, including both positive and negative traits, we were able to build a useful vocabulary to assess and measure executive presence.


The purpose of this exercise was:


  1. To help you quickly recognize the caliber of boss you are interviewing with, before you take the job. (Does she have great executive presence, accompanied by an array of negative traits that would mean a disastrous career move for you if you take the job?)
  2. To help you build a list of desired executive presence traits to cultivate, as well as identify the undesirable traits to leave behind.


Beyond these useful assessment tools, I hoped to go one level deeper in examining executive presence.  Sometimes, we are confronted with greatness and can’t put our finger on what constitutes that greatness. At other times, we are confronted with the appearance of greatness but have an inkling that the leader we observe is a false leader. In both cases it can be difficult, but very important, to articulate a clear case even if only to ourselves.


By examining many styles of executive presence and separating it from leadership qualities, I hope to provide some common language and useful tools for expressing both positive and negative attributes.


What is the underlying motivator of the leader 
or leaders in your work or business?
What is their end game?



Thus, one of the most important takeaways in this month’s brainstorming, research, and writings is to ask the following questions:


  • What is the underlying motivator of the leader or leaders in your work or business?
  • What is their end game?
For example, we decided that in Jack Shephard’s case from “Lost”, his motivation was saving lives after the crash of the airplane. He had to make split second decisions and inspire others to follow him (while barking orders), although they were all strangers. Despite his understandably disheveled appearance after the plane crash, he exuded confidence, conviction, and assumed control. Based on last week’s list, he embodied command of the room, dressed the part, and spoke with authority.


By contrast, we decided that Frank Underwood of “House of Cards” shows command of the room, dresses the part, and speaks with authority, but has no such positive motives as Jack. Frank Underwood is amoral, ruthless, and power hungry. And that’s just for starters.


How can you apply this language to your own executive presence as you refine your leadership abilities? How can you use this language to identify leaders you want to emulate, and steer clear of those you don’t?