Can you develop gravitas and be authentic? Absolutely! Delighted to share my new article in HBR.
“Rebecca, I need more gravitas,” Andreas said to me at the start of our first coaching session, “but I want to be myself. I don’t want to pretend to be someone else.” As an organisational psychologist at the London School of Economics, teaching leadership development in executive education programs and coaching professionals globally for 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing the development goals of hundreds of professionals. They regularly describe wanting to be valued and respected — but they fear that to do so they need to betray their own personality or values.
Having gravitas at work means you are taken seriously, your contributions are considered important, and you are trusted and respected. Gravitas increases your ability to persuade and influence and is likely to fuel the extent to which you rise in an organization. The organization also benefits: You’re more likely to add value if your voice is taken seriously.
It’s easy to associate gravitas with behaviors that fit a particular mold — what I call “surface gravitas.” Generally this involves posturing, dominance, or self-importance that are meant to charm or subdue. Taken to an extreme these behaviors can be counterproductive, eroding your relationships and influence, and even contributing to fear-based cultures that are anathema to innovation.
But even when it’s approached with the best of intentions, building gravitas by simply putting on an outward appearance can be harmful. Research suggests that authenticity — understanding your real self, including your deep-level and conscious thought, emotions, beliefs, and values, and acting in a way that reflects these — may be one of the strongest predictors of well-being. Many people sense this intuitively and shy away from trying to build their gravitas at all, assuming that if you’re not born with it, you can’t acquire it.
But in my work and research I’ve seen that you can develop your gravitas while being true to yourself. The key is understanding that your real self can change as you build a deeper set of meaningful, trusted connections with other people. These findings are based on our research with over 100 professionals across all organizational levels from a wide range of industries and geographies as well as work with coaching professionals specifically.
Consider Mitan, a financial analyst at a consulting firm. Mitan’s manager told him he needed “more gravitas” and specifically that he needed “to stand out more in the room and connect with clients more quickly and effectively.” Mitan regarded his boss as charismatic, but didn’t see himself that way, so he was annoyed and disheartened. “I’ve never been someone who wants to be the center of attention,” he told me.
But through coaching, Mitan was able to find a few techniques that actually felt right for him. The starting point was acknowledging that being able to connect with clients was part of his role. Based on more specific feedback from his boss and other colleagues, we set a new, specific goal for him: asking his clients about parts of their businesses he didn’t know much about, even though it felt safer for him to stick to topics he was more familiar with. Though Mitan was committed to this idea, he didn’t feel particularly confident. Still, he was surprised by how quickly his clients responded to his new approach, becoming more open with him about their challenges. That enabled Mitan to create new solutions for them, further driving their appreciation for him, and his own self-confidence.
Drawing on Mitan’s story and many others like his, here are five ways to increase your authentic gravitas:
Be clear with yourself about what you want.
If you’re explicit with your values and goals, you are more likely to act in ways that support them. Ask yourself, “If someone were to describe me to others, what would I want them to say?” Or, like Mitan, set a specific goal that relates to your work, and find your own ways to achieve it that are in line with your personal values.
To read the full article: HBR