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Gravitas – What is it, why do you need it and how do you get it?

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9 months ago by Julia Meighan, Chair at VMAGROUP

Gravitas – What is it, why do you need it and how do you get it?

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Gravitas has always intrigued me. In my younger days, climbing the management ladder, I am not sure I understood what it meant. I assumed it was only intimidating, powerful, clever men that had this and was not something I would have considered myself having. Perhaps it is easier to identify those that do not have it. People for example who lack confidence or have low self-esteem or conversely, arrogant people who lack interpersonal intelligence and seem impervious to understanding the needs of others.

Whichever people are, those that have gravitas either as a natural component of their personality or have mastered it over time, it is a proven ingredient for success in leaders and influencers all over the world.

“Gravitas is a proven ingredient for success in leaders and influencers all over the world”

The definition of gravitas: n. figuratively of persons, ‘dignity, presence, influence or in other words':

Expertise + Emotional Intelligence + Passion – Anxiety = Gravitas

We can all recognise the world has become more challenging, complex and connected, and perhaps those that have been described as having gravitas in the past would not be those that would be described as such today or in the future. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer (2019)1 we are in a new ominous phase in the loss of trust. The unwillingness to believe information, even from those closest to us, continues to undermine the influence and authority of politicians, institutional figures and leaders of organisations worldwide. Reputations of individuals and organisations built over a lifetime can now seemingly be lost in seconds.

“We are in a new ominous phase in the loss of trust…reputations of individuals and organisations built over a lifetime can now be lost in seconds”

Pivotal events such as the financial crisis of 2008, and more recently the appearance of fake news, activism and the influence of social media, has created a more urgent need for greater clarity, transparency and authenticity to filter the noise and help rebuild and create trust. As a result, the measure by which someone may have been deemed to have gravitas, I believe is changing too.

For business leaders, gravitas is seen as business critical for the reasons already mentioned. There is a need to influence and engage with a complex group of stakeholders both inside and outside the organisation, which has become infinite.  Its relevance and importance is in relation to all aspects of leadership communications, face-to-face or via media channels. In one-to-one meetings, at board level meetings or presenting to large groups of stakeholders.  Ultimately the purpose of using one’s gravitas is to have impact and influence. A measure of whether one has gravitas and it has done its job is that the audience is listening, they remember you and what you have said and most importantly they act on your words.

Leaders often make the mistake of thinking they have gravitas just because they are confident, know their stuff and they are experts in their field. Their lack of awareness of understanding their audience and how they present often means that they fail to influence. Worse still, they can create significant negative impact.

“Leaders often make the mistake of thinking they have gravitas just because they are confident, know their stuff and they are experts in their field”

Emotional Intelligence, or EQ is a critical component to achieving influence.

Recognising that emotions override intellect is important. If we want to influence others we need to appeal to their emotions because it is the first and most motivational system in our evolutionary drive to survive.

Confidence also plays a key role in building gravitas and the wider world constantly reminds us of who we are not, encouraging us to chase the ideal self. This in itself can destabilise us and our sense of gravity.  Often the best thing you can do to boost confidence is to act as if you are more confident, doing so consistently and repeatedly with a continuous daily programme of self-practice in trying out communication styles and approaches.

Cognitive behavior approaches can teach you to notice and change your thoughts and resultant behaviours. By helping you to control your thinking you are more able to manage emotions and behaviours. Psychodynamic thinking and approach is helpful in that it can help you set the goals for growth and change, understanding through introspection how to minimise the impact of personal weaknesses and focus on strengths.

Confidence in communications is, in my view, a great place to focus and often one of the key inhibitors. Use of words are also key to mastering effective communications. Your language is an embroidery of patterns or words that tell your story. In business it is the main currency of transactions. By learning to develop confidence in your use of non-verbal and verbal language, you can learn to captivate the hearts and souls of an audience with compelling messages and importantly influence the outcome of situations.

There is a saying that ‘life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules’. In my view, this applies never more so than to leaders and those operating in a position of authority within organisations who wish to transform and influence others. We need to challenge the traditional notions of leadership as a list of qualities. Leadership stems from individuality and leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection. Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In2) suggests that in order to be authentic and effective communicators we need to speak the truth and bring our whole selves, including our emotional selves, to work. We need to accept that it is our emotional self that ultimately drives our decisions and how we capture the hearts and minds of others.

“Leadership stems from individuality and leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection”

Whether we like it or not, we have to accept the increasingly complex and challenging environment we now operate within and how it is changing.  We must have the courage to convey who we are as unique human beings. In summary, I believe being true to our values, creating trust and stability, and having a sense of self–worth is instrumental to achieving Gravitas.

“Being true to our values, creating trust and stability, and having a sense of self–worth is instrumental to achieving Gravitas”

Julia Meighan is Chair of VMAGROUP and an Executive Coach. If you would like more information about how I can help you achieve Gravitas, please contact me on jmeighan@vmagroup.com

1. Edelman.com. Edelman Trust Barometer 2019
2. Sandberg S (2013) Lean In

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