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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith

Even retiring from the NFL, Jason Kelce serves lessons for leveling up executive presence

A passionate fan and former diplomat unpacks exactly what you can learn from Jason Kelce’s leadership.

[Source Photo: Getty Images]


I’m as obsessed with the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce romance as the next Swiftie. But Jason Kelce has been my favorite Kelce since long before Taylor became a Chiefs fan. It’s not just his singing on the Eagles Christmas album. It’s how he projects his executive presence, and his leadership, even as he retires from the NFL.

This year, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett published an update of her famous study on Executive Presence. Unsurprisingly, 10 years later, things have changed. Projecting confidence and demonstrating superior speaking skills are still at the top of the list. The big new items are authenticity and inclusiveness.


In his Philadelphia Eagles retirement announcement, Jason was willing to cry in front of his colleagues and the world. He did his slow breathing exercises to try to keep it under control, and his emotions still shone through. He gave us his authentic self. This is an important outcome of Hewlett’s updated research. People want leaders to show their true selves. 

Check out Jason’s speech at the Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl victory parade. He left no one in doubt of his confidence and speaking skills. The salty language might not work for everyone, but Jason got real with the fans. In about five minutes, Jason told the story of the Eagles’ (and their fans’) long journey from underdogs to national heroes. He incorporated audience involvement throughout his speech with call and response, inflection points for the crowd to boo and cheer, and a group chant. Throughout, Jason gave everything he had to project his voice to the crowd of potentially more than 2 million fans.

Was Jason always the paragon of confidence and leadership we see today? Apparently not. Jason says he was a shy kid.  He built his confidence through exposure—Mama Kelce’s ever-present video camera. Success in sports as a kid also helped. Having fun—showing that you’re enjoying yourself and are looking forward to the event, whether it’s on the field or in the boardroom—is part of projecting executive presence.


Today’s executive presence highlights caring about people. A “listen-to-learn orientation” has replaced forcefulness as an important factor in communication. Respect for others has risen on the list. According to Hewlett’s study, inclusion requires leaders to ensure that people feel appreciated and supported. 

Jason demonstrated this by specifically recognizing his colleagues and teammates in his victory speech. He called them out by name and described their obstacles and contributions. A strong leader shares credit for their accomplishments.

Jason takes inclusion even further through his Be Philly philanthropy to mentor and support the children of Philadelphia. This is a man who can’t find his own Super Bowl ring but he commits himself to the success of people who don’t have the good fortune of growing up with the support of the loving Kelce family.

In a letter to his beloved Philly, Jason wrote,

“At each critical moment of my life, there was someone who believed in me. Whether my family, my friends, or my fellow Philadelphians, I have always felt an overwhelming love and support that has helped me reach my dreams and potential on and off the field. Now it’s my turn.” 

Hewlett explains that today’s leaders have to go beyond emotional intelligence and showcase how they’re lifting up and advancing “those who have previously been excluded from executive ranks.”


Hewlett’s study shows that a polished look still tops the charts in the traits of appearance. Professionals no longer need to fit a specific mold of what to wear, but they still should put care into their clothes and grooming. Dressing for the new normal outclassed dressing for the next job.

Does Jason have a polished look? Not often. But his look is intentional. It’s authentic. He projects the image of a regular guy. He sticks to his underdog motif, even when he’s on top of the world. Jason is cultivating exactly the image he wants you to have of him.

Hewlett also cites the rising importance of curating an online image and willingness to show up in person. This is something Jason knows all too well, and he does both. Between his top-rated podcast, New Heights, with his little brother, Travis, and his documentary film, Kelce, Jason goes out of his way to let people get to know him and his family online. He wants you to know he’s a regular guy, doing the best he can every day.

Online presence aside, you can’t play professional football from your home office. While it’s a small part of the bucket, willingness to show up in person emerged as a notable piece of the appearance portion in Hewlett’s updated executive presence study. This doesn’t mean all day all the time. The hybrid work world has a well-established place with notable benefits. Importantly, making the effort to show up in person at key times and events can elevate your influence. 

One more piece of good news: Fitness and vigor have topped tallness as an essential part of your appearance. This means, as with most aspects of executive presence, it’s one more thing that, if you don’t already have, you can build. Sorry about the tall part, Jason (and Travis), you have enough going for you already.


Eileen Smith is a diplomat-turned-public-speaking-coach who helps business executives and policy experts prepare for speeches, media interviews, board meetings, and more.

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