How to cultivate gravitas

You can cultivate gravitas with inside out work

Many think it is not is possible to cultivate gravitas, central to executive presence, that elusive quality said to contribute by 25% towards career success.  It can be acquired by anyone, at any age. It’s about presenting your best self, all the time, even when you may not be prepared. Gravitas and charisma are not necessarily the domain of the older and usually more experienced, male, professional.

For lazy managers the lack of executive presence, has become a catch all phrase to avoid constructive and thoughtful feedback and emphasizes an inability to create a strong coaching environment. It lets the manager easily off the leadership hook. This sloppy opt-out, helps fuel a lack of diversity at senior levels, as those not fitting a cultural template based on age, gender or ethnicity, are excluded. It is a failure to understand that it is possible to cultivate gravitas and therefore executive presence.

More people believe they have these characteristics than actually do. The reality is that gravitas is both bestowed and earned. So there is both a self-perception and self-assessment problem, which can lie at the heart of the issue.

The 3 pillars of Executive Presence: gravitas, communication and appearance.

3 pillars of executive presence

3 pillars of executive presence

According to more than two-thirds of the executives (268) surveyed, in the Center for Talent Innovation research, gravitas seems to be the core quality of executive presence. This is a word that is less used today, but it is perceived to be a combination of behaviours and characteristics that convey confidence.

The Latin root of gravitas suggests “weight” and the word gravitate, its cousin, means moving towards. So gravitas conveys a depth of personality, reliability, respect, and trust, which draws people.

Think of the leaders you are drawn to. Why is that?

Add to those mentioned qualities, gravitas also requires a demonstration of moral integrity, a burnishing reputation, vision, an ability to show poise under pressure (bringing your best self to every situation) and credibility. People with gravitas are able to lead and develop relationships more effectively, are promoted earlier and are believed to get better results. This concept is especially confusing when so many of our leaders today do not seem to possess some, or all of these qualities.

Yet many people are uncertain how they can cultivate gravitas that and think there’s some magic formula.

There isn’t.

Self awareness needed

Executive Presence essentially starts with an inside out process. Anyone who bypasses this key element (and many try) will de facto not have achieved it, unless you are in the tiny minority for whom gravitas is a totally innate gift and you know instinctively when to present your best self. Developing gravitas is highly individual and everyone will have a different journey and response. Read: 10 Executive Presence Rules

It is difficult to standardise a learning process to cultivate gravitas. Yet many organisations try, with a one size fits all coaching or training programmes. Group exercises with prescribed prompts relating to values or personal qualities are often carried out. In a like and click internet culture, these can be less effective than they were in the 50s when Jahari’s Window  for example was originally designed. They can interfere with the real work you need to present your best self. Thinking. Not clicking. This inner work can be really challenging.

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.  J.F. Kennedy

I would suggest only using these exercises if you are really stuck.

Ask the right questions

if you wrote your own speech for your leaving party what would you say? Ask yourself the questions: what do you want to be known for? What do you regularly achieve? Are you the person who respects people’s time, communicates courteously and effectively, asks the right questions, listens attentively and smiles hello in the corridor?  Do people come to you to ask for your opinion or feedback? Are you open to feedback?

Or are you always late, poor at listening and responding, or bring your stress to the office?  Distracted or unwilling to engage. In many ways some of this is common sense and old school courtesy. Like many things, executive presence can be built up by small daily habits built upon from self- insight, that eventually become who you are. Trust is rooted in a reliability to make the right choices and decisions.

“We become what we repeatedly do.” Sean Covey

I ran a training programme for an international company last year, where for some reason 70% of the group had not done the pre-course work, despite the best efforts of the organiser. The group clearly under performed and their lack of innate skills was exposed and they were vulnerable.  Some embraced the learning experience. Others became defensive.

Executive Presence is an “E” concept, so preparation is critical for introverts. Without it they will get left behind in the promotion process. This is the group which is more frequently told they have no EP or charisma.

Inside Out Work

Charisma checklist

How does the inside out process work? It’s about:

  • Knowing yourself, your values and passions and what you stand for and against.
  • Creating  a powerful, passionate, impactful message, preferably  with humour. People love to smile. This can be a major stumbling block for many, but can be learned.
  • Sharing your great message whenever you can. The ability to weave your story into any situation in an appropriate way, conveying a benefit, shows mental agility and flexibility.
  • Developing strong people skills. Treating everyone with warmth, respect and consideration. Every day. Asking questions, listening and being present.
  • Making a great first impression. Make sure people remember you. Presenting your best self whenever you can. Pay attention to your professional image and finding the right balance between compliance and authenticity. Remember women are judged more harshly than men in this area.
  • Getting comfortable with the right kind of discomfort – by that I mean a willingness to step out of your comfort zone. Anyone who displays that kind of openness, is able to embrace change and will stop trying to control the conditions that make them feel secure. Whatever they are. This allows you to step up when you might have held back. If you hold back on something because you are nervous  – this means you need training or coaching. Make sure you get it.

When you have completed your inside out work you will have the skills and tools that will give you mental agility to present your best self even under pressure. You will have the presence of mind to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities to advance your career. It also makes you a great brand ambassador for your company.

Outside-In Work

This is about how you present yourself to the world. It is about trainable skills around communication and appearance.  It covers professional image, voice, smile, eye contact, and posture. This comes easily to people who have done their inside out work and is the easy part. Many great leaders have had coaching for presentation skills or voice.

Gravitas is not necessarily about age, as you can see from the video below. Malala Yousafzai was only 16 when she addressed the United Nations.

Companies encouraging employees to do their inside out work early on, will have a greater chance of grooming higher numbers for senior management  roles and strengthening their talent pipeline much earlier. Quite often this is left to leadership training when for some it can already be too late.

For any information on executive search, coaching and training services contact me here.

 

 

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