Maybe they’re born with it or it’s their imposing physique, or perhaps just the fact that you know they are in charge. All of these things may contribute but they don’t fully explain why some people have it and some people do not.
So what is gravitas, and how do you get it?
Whether we are talking about gravitas or the more modern term, leadership presence, the clue to working out what it’s all about is in the name. Gravitas is at least as old as the Romans and considered one of the ancient virtues, along with dignity and piety. In modern terms we understand it to mean seriousness, importance, substance but it’s more literal meaning of weight or heavy, gives us the first clue about how you might acquire it.
Sure size matters, just as our primate cousins will chose the fittest and the strongest to lead, we too are genetically programmed to do the same. But it’s not the key determinate. It’s not your size; it’s your substance that matters and how you project that substance to others.
As busy executives, you probably spend most of the day juggling priorities, making decisions and rushing from one meeting to the next. But when you look at executives you admire, perhaps your CEO or another leader you aspire to be like, have you ever noticed how much slower and more deliberate they are than you. You’ve probably also noticed the opposite effect on someone’s body language when they are really stressed out, waving their hands around and talking ten to the dozen. They seem to have no control at all over their bodies.
So just slowing down, getting out of your head and in touch with your body, by breathing deeply will ground you, make you feel and appear to others to be more steady and substantial. It can’t be that simple can it? Well it’s simple to say but surprisingly difficult to achieve. Try it for yourself at your next meeting. Instead of rushing in; imagine you are an actor in a play, and that you are entering a stage not a meeting room. Take a moment to get into character, the leader you want to be, slow down, breathe deeply and get grounded - you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Focus on the Now
With so many priorities and so much to do, sometimes it’s difficult to focus on what is happening at any one moment, as our minds race towards the next meeting, the targets to be met and the 23 things left on the to do list to be done by the end of the day.
A few years ago I worked with an Executive called David, who being a Director of IT, was much attached to his smartphone. He was a great leader in many ways, keen to provide visible leadership to be there for his people. But the trouble was when he showed up to the big team meetings he would get distracted by his smartphone and spend the whole time (when he wasn’t speaking) checking emails and sending messages to people outside the room.
Despite being physically present in the room (and he was a big bloke) he wasn’t actually present at all. In fact it would have been better if he had stayed away, as rather than conveying strong visible leadership, he was communicating to everyone in the room that they were not important and not worth listening to. So at your next meeting, put your smartphone away, sit up straight, undistracted and really listen. And if the meeting is really dull (let’s face it they often are) then look at it as the ideal opportunity for you to practice the art of presence.
Feel the Force
Before you ask it’s not a Jedi mind trick. Think about when you are in the presence of someone who has authority, weight, and importance – you don’t just see it, you feel it. So the question is how to get people to feel that way about you?
The big mistake many executives make is assuming it’s all about them. Wrong! You can’t be a leader if you don’t have any followers and you have to give people a reason to want to follow you. If all you do is throw your weight around, you are throwing away the opportunity to build your gravitas, which relies on you pulling people towards you not repelling them.
There are many ways to get people to follow you, but the one I want you to try today to is focus. Looking at your agenda for tomorrow, pick a 1-2-1 meeting you have that you are least looking forward to. Perhaps it’s a petulant subordinate, or an underperforming supplier, or one of those meetings that somehow made it into your diary, but the purpose of it remains unclear.
Go to the meeting with the sole purpose of listening to the other person, focusing on their agenda and what you can do to help them. Put your own agenda, your own frustrations and the script in your own head to one side and really listen. Observe the impact that this has on the other person. Do they feel at ease, were they more open, how did the dynamic change? What impact did your presence have on them?
The practice of presence, is part science, what is going in your mind and the mind of others and part art, how you behave to create the changes you want to see. To achieve it, you need to know what to do and then practice it to make it happen. What I love about working with my executive clients to build their leadership presence, is that the results are tangible, you can see (and feel) the change.
I hope that this article sparked an interest in finding out more about developing your leadership presence. Sign up to the LE4DER blog if you want to read more articles like this or email me at hannah@LE4DER.com if you want a private 1-2-1 chat on building your leadership presence. ere to edit.