Decoding Gravitas – what is it and can it be developed?
What is gravitas and can we develop more of it as colleagues and team leaders?
I often get asked by people, especially people working towards a promotion, if it’s possible to develop more gravitas quickly. You know, that intangible quality belonging to those really credible, authentic, quietly confident people we do business with. We somehow trust them quickly, we’re struck by their unflappable demeanour and you just get the feeling that they really know what they’re talking about.
Sounds straightforward, but why is so hard to nail? And think of people you know who don’t give you confidence. Why don’t they impress you or inspire you in the same way?
Gravitas can feel like the Holy Grail for some career-climbers. As team leaders, we need it, and we very often need to encourage the people we’re leading to develop more of it. Without it, they’ll find it harder to progress and impress in the eyes of senior bosses and clients.
I think there are two parts to developing more gravitas at work. The internal ‘state of mind’ self-prep and the more obvious external delivery. I’ll cover them both, but it’s the internal part that needs the most focus – work on that effectively and the impact you have on others will change automatically.
One of the most important elements of gravitas is clarity. People who communicate well and with ease and conviction don’t hesitate or waffle because they know what message they want to send. They’ve often waited for a relevant moment or environment to get it across. They possess an inner conviction that what they have to say will add value and is applicable to the moment. That’s different from liking the sound of your own voice or pulling rank for the sake of it. A motivated, tuned-in colleague is clear about what they want to deliver (and why) and has the inter-personal tools needed to get there.
You might think that sounds more like the external delivery part, but this confidence is coming from somewhere. People with gravitas often have a highly developed sense of self-awareness, self-worth and an awareness of others’ needs. They’ve put time into working out where and how they can make the most valuable contribution in their field. And they’ve focused on building on what they’re strong at.
Like many of us, they’ve tackled obstacles along the way like imposter syndrome and self-limiting beliefs, but as a result, they’ve decided to put their energy into the positive difference they know they can make. They’ve gained an inner sense of control – a useful quality for managing colleagues and for managing upwards. And we like those people, they inspire us, they make us feel can-do, even energised!
Your Unique Story
I’ve covered this next point before, but be clear on your unique story and how best to tell it. It’s really important as the backdrop to developing gravitas. That way, if you’re challenged on your relevance or whether you’re qualified to be saying what you’re saying, you can answer with a quiet confidence and self-assuredness, with no need for defensiveness or arrogance.
Confidence in decision-making and influencing others doesn’t come as easy as you might think to many leaders. But if you invest time into getting clear about where, how and why you add value to a particular group, project or problem and how you’ve reached that point, then you’re off on the right foot. You’ve eliminated self-doubt from the picture before you’ve opened your mouth and your impact will be more positive.
Now the delivery points to work on, the outward-facing parts of the gravitas equation. Think of a few colleagues or influencers whom you believe have conviction and great energy, what you’re actually responding to are these magic ingredients:
Ingredients for Gravitas
Tone of voice – whether it’s a presentation or simply a conversation where you need buy-in, good projection and intonation is key: not excitable, just steady and strong. How many newsreaders can you think of who speak too fast or nervously? And think about register: too high and you’ll sound less credible and younger than you are, too low and you might not show the energy you intended.
Pace and pauses – again, think of your favourite newsreader or a skilled politician. I could listen to British BBC newsreaders Moira Stewart or Trevor McDonald all day! What you’re hearing is a steady pace. They’ve usually worked on slowing themselves down for public delivery.
And you’re hearing pauses. Never underestimate the power of the pause to allow people to digest the importance of what you’ve just said! This applies to everyday negotiations and business conversations too. Don’t be afraid of momentary silence. Interruptions and hasty answers don’t spell gravitas.
Body language – over-busy hand gestures, unsteady eye contact, and regular (often unknowingly) touching your clothes or hair – need I say more? Get feedback.
These are all qualities that professional actors work on. They’re the basis for appropriate delivery – the right message for the right audience at the right time and in the right place. I’m not saying you need to be an actor to have gravitas – quite the opposite. It needs to come from within, but if you’re aware of how your movements and your voice look and feel to the people you need to influence, you’ve got a better chance of getting the response you’re after.