Gravitas for Men and Women Leaders
Gravitas is an attitude, character trait and self-expression skill that is deliberate, compels attention and commands respect from others. You naturally exude gravitas when you give weight or importance to anything you do. When you know that your ideas, words and actions are important, others perceive your importance and naturally value your contributions more.
Three law firms have contacted me in the last year to inquire about training women leaders and other attorneys to develop gravitas. Clearly, gravitas is a skill that women leaders want to understand and cultivate as a part of their professional development.
Following what appears to be a popular interest, I am committing to create a new program on gravitas for women leaders especially; however men may be served by my upcoming new program as well. In this article, I’ll share some of my understanding of what gravitas is and identify the elements anyone can use to cultivate it in their style of communication.
The fundamental concept from which we derive the term gravitas is gravity. Gravity is the natural phenomenon by which all physical bodies attract each other and are held in place. The Sun exudes a field that keeps the planets attracted and held in its orbit. The earth’s gravity holds each of us to the ground so we don’t fly off the earth into space. The Earth and Sun are like magnetic personalities whose pull is so strong that other bodies are attracted to them.
Gravitas is the quality that people possess when they tap into that same natural phenomenon of gravity and use it to hold attention, influence and persuade others. It is a term translated as weight, seriousness, dignity and importance. Gravitas gives weight to your thoughts, words, actions and speech, causing others to gravitate towards you.
In a group, one person may stand out as a leader because she exudes a quality of gravitas. That person may or may not hold the official position of the leader, but her presence will draw and hold the attention of others because she gives importance or weight to how she thinks, acts, moves and speaks her words.
My Experience with Gravitas
As an introverted woman who is living in a world that often thinks too fast, talks too fast, moves too fast and expects things too fast, I am mindful that I may be disadvantaged by being a small size and weight and having a high voice. Despite those potential disadvantages, I have often noticed that I influence others powerfully when I slow down, take my time, speak deliberately and boldly ask others to slow down with me. I win over many more new clients this way than when I allow prospective clients to rush me into telling them what I can do for them. I have had to work to achieve some gravitas. Fortunately, I had a vast amount of training in theatre skills which provided powerful techniques for developing qualities like presence and gravitas. More and more, I find myself grateful for the years of training in acting, directing, voice, movement and meditation which prepared me to teach public speaking, presence and persuasion.
In decades of training and teaching, I have observed that five physical factors can be practiced and integrated by anyone to consciously develop more gravitas in their style of communication. The five physical factors are Weight, Time, Movement, Voice and Space.
Two days ago, while cleaning the garage, I chanced upon a notebook from my first stage movement class at The University of Houston School of Theater. There, in my dusty old notebook from 1973, was a note about weight, time and space being key elements of movement. The synchronistic finding of that notebook just three days after I started thinking about weight, time and space being factors in gravitas seemed a sign that I am following an intuitive path that will lead to an exciting new program.
In this article, I will introduce you to the five physical factors which are woven together to create a strong sense of gravitas. These factors are not easily described separately because each one intertwines with the others. If you can grasp and integrate these five factors, they will help you build subtle characteristics into your style that will impact and influence others, in spoken and unspoken ways.
Adding Weight to Increase Importance
You can learn to give weight to your physical presence through a grounding exercise which will add an attraction factor. Grounding your body does not add actual weight to your body; rather, it gives you the inner sensation of weighted-ness, so you feel the weight of your own presence. A deeper experience of physical presence gives you a greater sense of comfort in your skin. The greater your comfort, the more others will naturally pay attention to you. For much more on grounding, see my Speaking Freely Blog.
You can add weight to your thoughts by giving yourself permission to think ideas thoroughly rather than expecting yourself to arrive at results quickly. Taking time to think things through incorporates the factor of time. It takes time to add weight to your thoughts, so slow your thought processes down. Don’t make snap judgements and don’t allow others to push you to do so.
Take Time to Add Importance
Taking time to speak your thoughts adds weight to your words. Articulate all the syllables of your words, give proper stress to the meanings of your words. When you rush your words, not only do you mispronounce words, but you also unconsciously give listeners permission to not pay attention to your words because you are not paying attention to them. You telegraph to listeners that you don’t expect them to pay attention very long, and so they don’t. When you take time to speak your words deliberately, your words carry weight, hold listeners’ attention and cause them to wait for you to finish. Pun intended.
Give Weight to Movements and Voice to Add Importance
Your body movements and voice physicalize your intentions. When you want to add importance to your communications, you must add weight to your physical movements. Here again, you add weight by taking time to move consciously. If you move quickly, you will give the impression of youthful impetuousness; but if you move deliberately, you exude gravitas. To practice this, you might imagine moving through space as if your body is moving through a thick atmosphere, perhaps an atmosphere that is slightly gelatinous. As a 24 year old acting student, I recall learning to act more maturely by doing a simple movement exercise of pretending to walk through an atmosphere that got progressively thicker and harder to push through. Try it and see how it slows you down to a pace that is more controlled and commanding.
Give weight to your voice by using the richest and fullest tone your vocal instrument can make naturally. If your voice is too thin or nasal, you will be perceived by others as lightweight, not as worthy of deeper consideration. You can learn the same vocal techniques actors use to develop resonant voices. Good vocal technique allows you not only to add the weight of richness to your voice, but it also expands the space you can command. The ability to use your voice to fill a room, also called voice projection, is created by the same technique as vocal resonance. So, space also adds to the tapestry of factors that weave together to build gravitas. Your presence and voice must take up more space.
Space is the last physical factor to discuss here. You must be willing to take up more space in order to command attention. For years I was aware that I had resistance to taking up space. It seemed like I wanted to shrink myself so I would not impose on anyone. As I learned to develop greater presence through grounding, I discovered a magnificent sense of feeling big and taking up more space in a room. Feeling big inside feels powerful and increases confidence – just one more benefit from grounding your body to develop stronger presence.
There is compelling new evidence that spreading out your body to take up more space increases self-confidence. Amy Cuddy, an associate professor and social science researcher at Harvard Business School, has published a New York Times best-selling book entitled Presence in which she shares her research on how assuming wide-open body postures cause significant psychological increases in confidence.
Value yourself to add importance
Develop gravitas by valuing your own ideas, insights and expertise. Give weight to your words by speaking the deepest truth you can access to add value to the conversation. Wait to speak until you have formulated the truth you perceive. Give weight to your contribution by taking the risk to share your unique perspective, the one thing you know, sense, feel or perceive that adds to the shared pool of knowledge.
Weight, time, movement, voice and space all integrate as factors that can help you consciously build a sense of gravitas, regardless of your age or sex. Take time to add weight to your thoughts, words, and actions to increase importance and attraction. Take up more space physically and vocally to let others know you are there. Claim your position in the group, knowing you add value. Be no more than you are, and no less than you are.
People with gravitas lead others by speaking less, but saying more. When people with gravitas speak, others listen because it is important. Be one who exudes gravitas because you are important.