They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, too, is gravitas.
On Wednesday evening this week, Talent Futures hosted an event for women entitled, Gravitas: So What Is It and How Do I Get It? Our guest speakers were Stephen G. Andress, a Senior Vice President at Northern Trust, and Kulbir Shergill, an award-winning Diversity and Inclusion consultant at Benton and Shergill. The event was well attended and in addition to the speakers, we had small group discussions and ended with a large-circle discussion on what we had concluded and learned from the evening, with everyone contributing. It was really gratifying to host an event on such a serious and elusive topic, and yet to have it come off as “inclusive, engaging, and friendly” as one participant phrased it. Thanks to all of you who attended and who shared the invite to others.
I opened the evening with a few introductory remarks, and then we heard from Kulbir and Stephen. This blog shares a summary of the evening.
Kulbir’s main point about gravitas was that it is about what is inside you, and how you project that through your poise and speech. She spoke about being at ease with others and comfortable in your own skin. Those who are calm and measured, and assured of the value of their own contribution are often said to have gravitas. Personally, I was very pleased when Kulbir pointed out that when she was doing something that she really enjoyed (i.e., when she was in flow to use a positive psychology term) were the times that others had commented on her gravitas. She also pointed out that people with gravitas understand the social context and have something to say. And for her definition, she felt Michelle Obama was a good example. Being able to be First Lady and all the poise and grace that requires, but also to be able to comfortably let loose on television and sing along to the radio in a car with James Corden takes real sense of self! In conclusion, Kulbir said she has learned gravitas is being confident and kind, approachable not scary, poised, and above all, being yourself.
Steve approached the question of what is gravitas with the lens of having served in the military and having lived in different countries as an executive in financial services. While stating that gravitas is culturally dependent, he spoke to the things that he has seen are consistently considered gravitas. Confidence, the willingness to listen to others, and remaining calm in crisis were key themes. Those with gravitas always seem relaxed and in control of the situation, even when there are numerous fires to put out. (Nobody wants an hysterical leader!) People with gravitas ask questions, ask others’ opinions, and respect others’ answers. They don’t feel the need to know it all themselves and remain open to others’ ideas. Unreliant on their title for authority, people with gravitas are thoughtful, do not rush to judgement, and spend a lot of time listening. They don’t do most of the talking. Steve concluded it is about being bigger than yourself. That is, offering solutions to others that are beyond your own interests, sharing credit, taking disagreements offline, and taking time to be prepared for meetings. It is a long list, he admitted, but not everybody has everything. You just need enough, and most of it is about your relationships with others.
In our following discussion, we explored the themes of gravitas and trust, gravitas and authenticity, and of the importance of cultural fit in your organisation in order to be seen to have gravitas. In the end, we drew the conclusion that the standards of gravitas and the behaviours that deem someone to have it will always vary, and they may indeed be different for women than for men, but what all definitions seem to have in common is the emphasis on thoughtful relationships with others, and self-awareness.