Executive Presence & the MBA

Ken WhiteBy Ken White, Ph.D., Associate Dean for MBA & MS programs

What image do you project? How do people react when you enter a room or walk down a hallway? Do you possess that intangible quality known as executive presence?

It’s somewhat easy to spot but not so easy to define. Executive Presence is a mix of skills that helps you send the right signals. Among other things, executive presence is the ability to project self-confidence and to make tough decisions. People who exhibit executive presence seem to have everything under control.

For some people, it takes years to develop a positive presence. It sometimes comes with position and age. But who has the time to wait? You need to work on your Executive Presence rather than waiting for it to come to you, especially if you desire a future in leadership.

The Smith School Part Time MBA program provides countless opportunities for you to build your Executive Presence and your personal brand.  As a student here, you will be given chances to shine in class discussions and presentations, at networking events, alumni events, social gatherings, company briefings, mock interviews, interactions with faculty, and the list goes on. Take advantage of the opportunities here.

When doing so, consider the following elements:

People with executive presence are excellent communicators and they value communication. They share information and knowledge as effectively as possible in order to empower others. They are dynamite public speakers. Their writing is excellent. They are active listeners. The key to their success is their audience-centric approach to communication. From a non-verbal standpoint, they move purposefully. They send all the right non-verbal messages.

Those with executive presence look good. Their clothing fits properly. It’s clean and pressed. They look polished. They know what to wear and how to wear it. They take care of their hair, skin, teeth, and nails. It’s not about being flashy. It’s about being professional. They realize they represent others and they take that role seriously.

Executive presence is not an act or a role to play. It all begins with substance. Before tackling any of the elements listed here, you have to know your stuff.  Be the go-to person. Be prepared for class. Participate and lead discussions. Ask questions. Show others that you are prepared and passionate about the MBA program, the Smith School and the University of Maryland.

Poise is a major building block of executive presence. When others are losing their tempers or adopting negative attitudes, those with executive presence are poised.  Be the person who takes a breath in tough situations, weighs the options, and calmly determines the next steps. Your poise is comforting to those around them and it positions you as a leader.

At a recent Graduate Management Admissions Council Leadership Conference, the keynote speaker said there are now over 12,000 business programs in the world, including thousands of MBA programs. The Smith School’s part time and full time MBA programs are ranked among the best one-percent in the world. That’s incredible! Be proud of that. Tell others. Speak up for Smith. When you demonstrate self-confidence and pride in your organization and school, it adds to your presence.

Your executive presence is a major part of your personal brand. In today’s world, a strong personal brand is an extremely important asset. So, building your executive presence is worth the effort.  Take advantage of all the opportunities here and start building your Executive Presence.


Ken White, Ph.D., is Associate Dean for MBA & MS programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. In addition to his leadership role there, he teaches communication in the MBA program and to executive clients. Before joining the Smith School, he served as Vice President for Communication & Marketing at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. His doctorate is in Communication from the University of Missouri.

1 Response

  1. Megan Allums says:

    Great advice Dr. White!