It’s not performance or work ethic – but they help
Every great leader has something in common. They have gravitas, which is to say they have executive weight, a presence that people respect and want to follow. Yes, they also need to have intellectual capability and competencies. But without gravitas, executives can struggle to lead. As a friend of mine says, a leader without followers is someone taking a walk. So how does one develop gravitas- or teach others how to enhance theirs?
There are five traits that anyone with gravitas possesses-all which apply to both male and female executives.
The first element of executive presence is emotional intelligence or EQ for short. This is one’s ability to control his or her emotions no matter what might be going on around them. We have all been exposed to people who lack the ability to amplify or dampen emotions (you can read my other article about that topic). But great leaders understand how they need to control their own emotions in order for other people to respect and follow them.
The second element is to dress properly. You need to look like an executive. Of course, this varies by industry. If you are working for a tech company in Silicon Valley, you might only need to wear a cool t-shirt and jeans. Or, like Steve Jobs, a black turtleneck, jeans, and glasses. No matter what industry you’re in, people look to how you dress as a physical cue to see if they should follow you or not. A good tip is to dress like your boss or if you can swing it, your boss’s boss. In a more conservative industry like finance, that might mean wearing a suit; which can sometimes be easier for men than women, who may be forced to build a new wardrobe that shows seriousness without losing their femininity.
The third factor to gravitas is that executives need to be a calming presence when they enter a room-especially if things are going wrong. The key is for the leader to channel the energy and emotions in the room and get everyone focused on finding a solution. An executive with gravitas can help inspire everyone to put aside their concerns and get inspired to work together in working their way to a win.
If you want to build executive gravitas, then you also need to develop your speaking capability. People follow executives who have strong public speaking skills and a diverse vocabulary. Great leaders also don’t swear, because people tend to follow leaders who use clean positive language. They shouldn’t be too academic where they talk over everyone’s head. Rather, they use the best words to most accurately describe a situation; especially in front of a crowd of people. Great leaders train themselves to speak well in public; sometimes by taking training classes from Dale Carnegie or Toastmasters. Warren Buffett has been clear about the need for executives to be well-spoken.
A fifth aspect of gravitas related to speaking is that great leaders-both men and women also learn how to drop their voices. They also learn the power of speaking at a reasonable pace that isn’t too fast or too slow. While a CEO who speaks with a deep measured voice might sound like a caricature out of a Hollywood movie, there’s truth to the fact that people follow leaders who sound like that. As all singers know, your voice is an instrument and you can shift the tone if you practice a bit. I worked with a woman, for example, who was fabulously smart and a tireless worker. But she tended to speak rapidly with a high-pitched voice. I worked with her to drop the tone of her voice and slow the pace at which she spoke. When she did that, she developed gravitas- and her career took off from there.
I know it might seem strange that these tips all seem to involve the image of a leader and how you might appear to others. But like it or not, a big part of leadership is how you show up. If you show up the wrong way, it can be hard to get people to follow you. Clearly, your content, work ethic, and intellect are critical – but these are table stakes to make it into executive leadership.
So if you want to develop gravitas as a leader, think about focusing on traits like emotional control, maintaining a calming presence, speaking in a controlled and deep voice, and dressing like you mean business. If you can do those five things, you’ll be on your way to developing gravitas of your own.