Have you noticed that there are some people who capture the attention of everyone in a room, through their magnetism and energy? People who ignite ideas, inspire action and command respect, while appearing calm and in control of their surroundings? It’s likely they’ve learnt the secret of gravitas: the elusive leadership ingredient that everyone wants, but few know how to get.
Gravitas is a term that’s been close to my heart for many years. During my career in communications we’d refer to it as though it were a passport to senior positions. And, through my work as a leadership communications coach and facilitator, it’s become more and more pertinent as people feel the pressure to step up, be taken seriously, and respond to demands to deliver faster results earlier in their career.
So what is gravitas?
The word ‘gravitas’ has its roots in ancient Rome and was one of the virtues that Romans were expected to possess to fulfil their role in society along with pietas (duty), dignitas (prestige) and virtus (valour). Gravitas is translated variously as weight, seriousness, solemnity, dignity and importance and denotes a certain substance or depth of personality that inspires respect and trust. The word is also linked to ‘gravity’, a centrifugal force that keeps you grounded and ‘gravitate’, an energy that attracts people to you.
Gravitas is an elusive quality. Just like charisma, or presence, you know when someone has ‘it’ and you know when they don’t. Classic examples tend to be silver-haired men, with the wisdom of age and the senior positions to go with it: like a fine wine, their gravitas has emerged over time. Although gravitas is more likely to develop with the passing of years, in today’s competitive and fast-paced environment, people are expected to display it much earlier on in their career. It’s down to individuals to work out how to build this elusive quality for themselves, now. Much has been written about today’s turbulent work environment, where people are required to prove themselves in what is often a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous setting. In times of change, what individuals and teams are looking for is appreciation, reassurance, direction and energy. What leaders need is the ability to inspire, engage, influence and develop meaningful relationships. It’s not enough to rely on authority or title to get things done.
How can you develop gravitas for yourself?
In researching my book, I examined the characteristics that leaders with gravitas share in the 21st century, characteristics that you can emulate if you’re looking to enhance your leadership style. One of the first things I realised is that gravitas is defined not by how you see yourself, but by the perception of the people around you, and so it is within their gift to give. That said, although gravitas, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, the good news is that the extent to which people see gravitas in you is within your power. If you feel worthy of people’s attention and respect, you will be more likely to get it.
At a fundamental level, a leader with gravitas has spent time exploring who they are, and their unique purpose and direction in their organisation and life. Whether corporate or community leader, entrepreneur or business owner, they look beyond their immediate horizon to the world on a wider scale, and are willing to make a contribution that’s beyond personal gain, working towards what they believe in without getting carried away by their own personal agenda.
In addition to these strong foundations, a leader with gravitas has the ability to communicate with conviction, earning admiration through their actions, words and ability to listen. This conviction gives them a certainty which inspires others: they know what they’re there to achieve, their line of sight is focused on a compelling future and, as such, they ‘walk their talk’.
Leading with Gravitas: unlocking your potential
My goal in writing Leading with Gravitas is to provide readers with the tools to uncover their own gravitas, find their unique voice, and develop the strength to lead in whatever situation their find themselves. Throughout the book we explore what gravitas means for today’s leaders, the six qualities that people with gravitas share, and how they use their individuality to make a lasting impression. We consider people who break the traditional silver-haired model of gravitas, people who inspire confidence and command respect by being their authentic selves. Most importantly, we look at what readers can do to define their own gravitas and leadership style, and communicate their message with confidence.
If you are looking to develop your gravitas, one of the first steps is to increase your awareness of what’s important for you, what makes you ‘tick’, what you love about what you do and the difference that you, and only you, make. Your ‘purpose’ doesn’t necessarily need to come through your role at work – I know many people whose real driver is outside of the workplace – but it has to be there. As the ancient Greek Theophrastus said, “time is the most valuable thing a man can spend”, so it makes sense to use it wisely.
The next time you want to make an impact and influence through your leadership style, take a moment to remind yourself of what has got you to where you are today, the value of your unique point of view. When you communicate, challenge yourself to switch ‘on’, give of your best and be an inspiration to others. Look for the same qualities in the people around you and notice the difference that this heightened perspective makes on your own state and on the world around you.
Like an acorn kernel which holds within it the DNA of a stately oak tree, gravitas is at the heart of you, waiting to be let out. You will know when you’ve got ‘it’ when the confidence and consistency of your behaviour shows others that, even in times of crisis, you can gather yourself and inspire those around you to keep moving forward, while enjoying the journey along the way.
Leading with Gravitas is available on Amazon as a paperback and e-book here