Do You Need More Gravitas?

Your personal brand is all about defining the authentic you – pulling together the ingredients that make your own, distinctive signature dish. But out of all the possible ingredients you could have in your recipe, the one that everyone seems to want is this: gravitas. (Yes, I know the picture relates to gravity, not gravitas – but you try coming up with something to illustrate it!)

I’m basing my opinion on years of working on people’s brands, hearing the same thing over and over again:

“I want to have more gravitas.

Or even:

“I’ve been told me I need more gravitas.”

The question is:

Is gravitas something you can develop, or something you need to be born with?

To my mind, it’s a mix of the two. There has to be a kernel of gravitas in you somewhere in order to develop it. (As my father often quotes from the film Chariots of Fire, “I can’t put in what God left out,” so if you’ve got nowt to start with, you’re stymied.)

How do you know if you’ve got something to work with?

It’s not always easy, as gravitas can be hard to define. My dictionary has it as ‘seriousness or sobriety’ (which is bad news for me as the latter would suggest abstaining from the Rioja). That’s quite specific, but in my mind doesn’t really capture the feeling I get when I meet someone who exudes gravitas – and indeed what’s missing when I meet someone who doesn’t.

In an attempt to define it once, a client told me, “You either have ‘it’ or you don’t,” placing strong emphasis on the word ‘it’. Another person explained it as, “There are people who ‘move the air’ when they walk into a room”. (I think she meant more than just the physics of the situation.)

They’re right, in their own way, but it’s all still a little fuzzy around the edges, isn’t it? And without a clear idea of what it is you’re looking for, how will you know when you’ve found it, let alone be able to develop it?

Help is at hand!

In her book, Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett provided the most comprehensive definition of gravitas I’ve come across. Having surveyed 4,000 college-educated professionals in the US, including 268 senior executives, she concluded there are six key areas that combine to form the holy grail of personal branding:

1. Confidence and grace under fire

2. Decisiveness and showing your teeth

3. Integrity and speaking the truth

4. Emotional intelligence

5. Reputation and standing/pedigree

6. Vision and charisma

Now, you may be thinking, “You’ve covered a lot of ground there Silvia” – and in some ways the breadth of her definition might make the picture even fuzzier.

But the flipside is, by breaking it down in this way, she’s made it easier to identify the aspects of gravitas you may already have under your belt (perhaps your EQ is high, or your pedigree is already established) so you can better focus on the parts that need developing (maybe you need to speak up more and state the truth, or set out your vision more clearly).

The bottom line is, even if you don’t naturally exude gravitas, you can at least increase the components that contribute to it – and with that, increase the chances you’ll be perceived as having it.

What’s your view on gravitas? Can anyone have it? Can you develop it? Is it really all that important? Or is it becoming less so, as we change our ways of working? Your comments in the box below are always welcome.

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