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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Executive Presence: A "Must" in Educational Leadership

Executive Presence: A “Must” in Educational Leadership

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education, 326A
Indiana State University

I have been asked to speak to an MBA class this fall on the concept of Executive Presence, as applied to education.  Admittedly, a nebulous concept, yet one that if used in moderation, can add a nutritional boost to one’s leadership.  In terms of how this applies to those of us working in P-12 education, I'm thinking about describing it as follows:

Executive Presence is . . .

Something between the dichotomy of “officious” and “chummy.”

Something noticed without needing to see it when heard; and something noticed without needing to hear it when seen.

Something that exists on a conscious/competence continuum, in different stages of our professional careers: At first, we are unconscious regarding our incompetence at it (in our blind spot).  Then, we are conscious of that incompetence.  Over time, we work on our competence with executive presence, consciously.  Once doing so, we become unconsciously competent at it eventually, as it become how we “roll.”  Finally, we use our conscience, unconscious competence of executive presence as we teach it to others.

Something that can be worn without donning a professional outfit, but can use one as an accessory.

Something that reminds us of the old E.F. Hutton Commercial, because when someone with Executive Presence talks, “. . . people listen.”

Something that seasons with the passing of time, the raising of children, and with positive treadwear.

Something that can be learned as a skill, yet with some having it as a talent.

Something that appears more authentic when individualized to one’s personality and context.

Something that allows one to leverage positively, organizational culture.

Something that requires one to understand that oneself is “OK,” and others are too.

Something whose arms can hug, whose fingers can pull a trigger, whose hands can wield a pen of clemency, whose heart can forgive, and whose mind does not forget.

Executive Presence – Nebulous, yet critical for any successful, practicing principal or superintendent.  What would its picture look like next to the dictionary definition? 

Who is its poster child in your district?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is working as an author, speaker, trainer, and graduate faculty member to help others build their levels of executive presence in P-12 education.  If you would like to help him flesh out the skeleton of this construct, please give him a call at (812) 237-8624 or write him at  He would love to talk.


  1. Wow, well stated. This is something that I needed to hear at this time. A time when I am feeling overwhelmed and less of a leader. This picks me back up and puts me back into the game. Thank you so much.

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