Gravitas is critical to your leadership.
Why? And what is it?
Gravitas comes from the Latin meaning weight or heaviness. In business as in life, gravitas is about being taken seriously. It signals your dignity, and gives your ideas and suggestions greater impact.
Leaders more often think of professionalism or respect than they do of gravitas. You can be respected but not taken seriously, or professional but not dignified.
Gravitas is the power that gets others to pay attention because they know you are serious and strong.
In the Maori culture of New Zealand, they use the word mana. They say that those with it have great authority or presence; reverence and imagination; powerful yet humble. The Maori say it embodies their culture and history. I think it sounds like their version of gravitas.
What gives a person’s life weight, a substance above the norm?
What are the benefits of gravitas?
William Macaux says, “Gravitas, a powerful word, arguably thrown about too cavalierly at times…signifies esteemed personal qualities, so quickly noticed and so immediately transformative in a social situation.”
- It increases credibility. Good ideas are taken more seriously.
- It earns respect. Most people recognize that gravitas rarely comes easy and they respect those who work to have it.
- It increases power. Power is the ability to influence and direct the efforts of others, and gravitas demonstrates that your ideas and instructions are worth considering and doing.
- It gets the right kind of attention. Gravitas helps you stand out in the right way. In the digital age, some have resorted to gimmicks and even bad behavior to stand out. Gravitas says “pay attention” and others do because they know they will benefit.
After decades of working with leaders in a plethora of professionals and industries, I’ve observed some common themes I’ve grouped as major and minor.
Presence. Gravitas is a combination of both character and conduct that reflects both the person’s inner and outer world. People with gravitas are congruent with what they say, how they behave and what they are in reality.You feel the weight of a person of substance when you are in his or her presence.
How do you carry yourself? Do you attend to a consistency of espoused belief and practiced behavior? Are you attentive to the presence you convey, but not obsessive about it?
An informed point of view. In an age where everyone claims to be a thought leader, not nearly as many actually are. Thought leadership is bestowed, not claimed. But being a thought leader isn’t what gives you gravitas. Being well informed and reasoned are what give gravitas. Because they’ve done the hard work of research, study and contemplation to reach the opinions they hold, they have confidence when they express their views.
Is your point of view unique to you, reached through a combination of learning and experience? Or have you simply adapted familiar points of view commonly held?
Global view. By that I don’t mean only geopolitically (although that is something very important to understand). I mean those with gravitas think beyond themselves and their needs. They try to act and communicate in a way that benefits the greater good of the organization, community or other group of which they are a part.
Do your work and commitment rise above your own needs? Are you someone who considers the bigger picture and the greater community you impact?
Education. Formal education is important and many with gravitas have that. More important is the kind of education that comes from a commitment to continuous learning, and anyone can have that. To be an autodidact is to do the work of self-education throughout your life.
Do you have a plan for your ongoing self-education? What are you learning right now? What are the most credible resources you draw from?
Preparation. In meetings those most surprised as those who haven’t done their homework, identified the issues and thought out their opinions and reasoning. Preparation should be proportionate to the importance of the task. Those who do a deeper dive always have an advantage. Those with gravitas know there are many things in life beyond our control, but preparation isn’t one of them.
Do you have a simple goal to be as well prepared as possible for important meetings and events? Are you willing to work harder and prepare better than those you hope to influence and lead?
Influence. The factors presented so far all contribute to influence but those with gravitas almost always have excellent if not extraordinary communication skills. This includes careful listening to understand others, insightful questioning to clarify and concise use of language to explain one’s position.
Do people listen to you and take you seriously? Do you listen to others and take them seriously? Do you take the words you use and how you communicate them seriously?
Reputation. Reputation management is a popular topic, but I believe reputation is created and maintained. It is largely the culmination of the major traits and factors just presented. Albert Schweitzer said, “My life is my argument.” He knew his reputation was the most persuasive tool he had. He knew it, lived it and accomplished it.
Is your reputation an accurate reflection of who you really are? Why or why not? What is your role positively or negatively?
The minors are less important but are part of the equation. Substance is more important than style, but style can and should complement substance. The following are the easiest to address and quickly make improvements in how you are perceived. Here is a list of some of the most significant minors of gravitas:
*Correct use of spelling and punctuation in all communication.
*Attention to appearance that demonstrates excellence in professionalism over fashion.
*Emails that are well formed, personable, to the point and that never waste time.
*A car that is clean and well maintained regardless of year or model.
*Office space that is well organized and attractive.
*Voicemail that is clear and professional.
*Social media that is thoughtful and authentic that doesn’t detract from credibility.
*Photos that are recent and recognizable.
None of the minors usually make or break gravitas, but they do enhance or detract from it.
How do you measure up on each of these minors?
Not all leaders have gravitas, but all should aspire to it. Those with gravitas help us see and seize opportunity and encourage us and lead us out of difficulty and crisis. We seek them out for guidance, not because they appear to be smarter and more skilled, but because they have humbly proven that they have become such through commitment and hard work.
Mark Sanborn is an award winning speaker and Leadership Expert in Residence at High Point University, the Premier Life Skills University. For more information about his work, visit www.marksanborn.com. He also teaches professional speakers and leaders how to increase their messaging and public speaking effectiveness. Learn more here.