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“You can tell she has the it factor…”

“The ‘it’ factor?” I replied to the CEO who was talking about one of his Commercial leaders.

“Yeah, the ‘it’ factor…. presence, what people look for but rarely can describe”, he continued. “Gravitas is what the English describe the leadership ‘it’ factor to be”.

What is gravitas?

It can be a very nebulous term and it’s vital that you define it to your own satisfaction.

As a starter, the dictionary define it in this way:

grav·i· (grv-täs) n.

Substance; weightiness: e.g. ‘a frivolous biography that lacks the gravitas of its subject’.

A serious or dignified demeanour: “Our national father figure needs gravitas, [but] he’s pitched himself as the kid brother” (John Leo).

One of the great challenges and aspirations for leaders is to embody in themselves and have recognised by others that they have Gravitas. Other people may recognise this as “executive presence” or substance.  It is the “thing” that some have that cause them to be noticed for all the right reasons. It is something that can’t be physically touched but can absolutely be felt or experienced by others when they come in contact to one with Gravitas.

But exactly what does gravitas look like for leaders?

It is presence, an aura of natural authority or an air of command.

It looks like being measured, succinct, calm, confident and sincere;

People with gravitas look like they are unruffled can carry themselves with an air of ‘being worth listening to’. They often command serious attention (from people of all sorts and conditions) by some personal mix of intelligence, style, authority, manners and wisdom.

Perhaps it’s as simple as just being ‘statesman-like’ or even leaderly!

Gravitas is relational in that it is not something we can just confer on ourselves. It is bestowed on us by others. It is how they experience us – rather than how we presume they are experiencing us. So does Gravitas come from what you do, say or look?

Certainly elements of this can contribute. My observation is that people who really embody Gravitas (all the time not just on occasion) are those who are more than the external dressing of words and body language. It is about their psyche, it is part of who they are internally. It’s who they be (pardon my poor grammar).

Those with Gravitas carry centeredness within themselves. Regardless of how they are squeezed, when or by whom they have the capability to remain calm, centered, constant and curious.

There is no doubt that tending to physical appearance and preparing for important meetings or presentations goes towards developing a presence that is positive.

However gravitas is more than window dressing. Leaders with gravitas develop a strong sense of understanding their own being and human reactions. They pay attention to their own reactions and learn to manage these with compassion and calmness so that they can pay attention to the environment around them.

Over time them gravitas becomes a way of “being”.

Dr Wayne Dyer may not be to everyone’s taste or reading style. Regardless he told wonderful stories to facilitate the learning of others. One of his stories was a conversation he had with a boy who attended one of his seminars:

 “If I were to squeeze an orange as hard as I could, what would come out?” Wayne asked.

He looked at me like I was a little crazy and said, “Juice, of course.”

“Do you think apple juice could come out of it?”

“No!” he laughed.

“What about grapefruit juice?”


“What would come out of it?”

“Orange juice, of course.”

“Why? Why when you squeeze an orange does orange juice come out?”

 “Well, it’s an orange and that’s what’s inside.”

I nodded. “Let’s assume that this orange isn’t an orange, but it’s you. And someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, says something you don’t like, offends you. And out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, fear.


The answer, as our young friend has told us, is because that’s what’s inside.”

It’s one of the great lessons of life. What comes out when life squeezes you? When someone hurts or offends you? If anger, pain and fear come out of you, it’s because that’s what’s inside. It doesn’t matter who does the squeezing—your mother, your brother, your children, your boss, the government. If someone says something about you that you don’t like, what comes out of you is what’s inside.

And what’s inside is up to you, it’s your choice.

Simple story but nicely illustrated.

But…orange juice and gravitas, c’mon! Where is the link, I hear you say!

The link is the work needed to be done by the leader themselves.

As Jessica Leyden commented in a recent podcast episode , self-awareness is not sexy or interesting but it is fundamental.

Leading in 2020 has demanded much from all of us as leaders. Working side by side with leaders who at times were unsure how to lead or adapt offered plenty of opportunities for exploration of new possibilities.

Step #1 is to define what gravitas means to them.

Step #2 is to identify a group of people they believe exemplify gravitas, be it in public, corporate or private life.

Step #3 is to examine how do the exemplars project their gravitas, particular during times of overwhelm?  How does it manifest itself – what are the behaviours that give it away?

Step #4 Identify what particular behaviours stand out most? What might have helped them develop gravitas?

Step #5 Ask what are the common themes?

Step #6 Decide which ones are worth cultivating or experimenting with?

When the moments of overwhelm are impacting leadership and you as the leader are being squeezed like and orange, what do you hop will be squeezed out?

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