What does it mean when people say you need to work on your gravitas?
Are other people’s perception of what gravitas means relevant?
What is gravitas anyway, and how can you develop it for yourself?
If someone said to you they think you need to have more gravitas, what images and thoughts would that conjure up?
Some people’s perception of gravitas is a certain aloofness. Others see it as an increase in professionalism, authority. The old-skool version of gravitas brings with it a vision of silver-haired foxes reaching for the drinks trolley in a Don Draper-style display of alpha-maleness.
For me, gravitas is the ability to get taken seriously, command respect and have your voice heard, all while staying true to who you really are.
As founder of the Gravitas Programme, I’ve worked with many male and female clients who’ve been told in appraisals that they lack ‘it’ and that for them to reach higher positions, they need to go out and develop it. Hearing these tales makes me sad and frustrated because, however well-intentioned or not, feedback like this can leave the person feeling like they are fundamentally lacking something, but with no route to doing something about it.
In the context of today’s business environment, having gravitas as a leader means you are confident, considered and an inspiring communicator. It’s not another word for loudness, brashness or bullishness. So, if you are on the receiving end of being told you need more of it, what can you do?
First off, know that not many of us are born with gravitas. It is a learnt state and even the most admired leaders have grown into their style with help, practice and dedication. Gravitas is something that is not just defined by how you see yourself but, more importantly, how others around you see and react to you.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ model of gravitas and many with gravitas display it in different ways and at different times – for example, you can have the leader at the front of the room talking their team through a strategy, but you also have the person who has formulated, built and executed that strategy and the person who’s coaching the team to succeed. All have gravitas because they are excellent at what they do and can express themselves with conviction, warmth and clarity.
In my book, Leading With Gravitas, I researched leaders from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and found that although there are many different version of gravitas, those who have ‘it’ share a number internal qualities that reflect their beliefs, values and personal identity and external qualities that determine how they present themselves to the outside world and are experienced by others.
The internal qualities include self-awareness, expertise and authenticity. The external qualities included presence, connection and projection. These qualities are encapsulated in the Gravitas Wheel which is a practical tool for assessing and enhancing your own gravitas as a leader. What I always say to people using the Wheel is to start by objectively assessing yourself in each area and examine which qualities are the strongest for you and which might be holding you back. Self-reflection is important for this, as is getting feedback from others.
Once you identify your strengths and which areas need further development, this is when you can make headway to defining your unique G-Factor and increasing your own gravitas. For more detail take a look at my book, Leading with Gravitas, and book onto my next Gravitas Masterclass.