The real secret to Gravitas

Today I spoke for a group of inspiring leaders on the subject of what it takes to get heard, get respect, and get results. The leaders we admire have gravitas – defined officially as ‘seriousness or sobriety in word or deed’. From my perspective that all sounds a little too pompous! We can have gravitas without being grave.

Historically we have identified leaders with gravitas through their ability to conquer and defy others.

Think Might is Right. Think Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. 2000 years later and both are deemed two of the most influential people to have lived. This legacy of ‘might is right’ has stayed with us: Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, and even Kim Jong Un. Tony Abbott’s threat of ‘shirt-fronting Putin’ is a hangover of this concept of gravitas. And it falls short of creating a real contribution.

Once we move past the hairy-chested thumping and puffing, we move to a new meme of gravitas:

Bright is Right. We herald the smart, savvy intellectuals for their contribution. Steve Jobs is one of the most quoted and admired people for his legacy of shifting the planet digitally. He was also known for being a tyrannical micro-manager and left many relationships in a hurricane of devastation. Our own Julia Gillard is a great example – brilliant, quick, eloquent, and fierce. And yet she failed, as did Jobs, the most important aspect of gravitas – connection.

So we come to the next layer in our quest to understand gravitas:

Light is Right. We want leaders who can shine light in darkness, who can act as beacons, as lighthouses – calling us forward to the better version of ourselves, in purpose of service.

Malala Yousafzai is a stunning example. At the age of 12 she wrote a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym detailing her life in Pakistan under the Taliban. Three years later, on 9 October 2012, as she boarded her school bus, a man called for her by name, and then shot at her three times. One of the bullets entered the left side of her forehead, travelled along her face under the skin and hit her shoulder. She survived.

Rather than disappear into anonymity, she decided to campaign globally against the repression of children and for the right of all children to an education. Last year, in 2014, she was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest awarded – at just 17.

Malala shows great courage; she also shows that when we have a deep and powerful purpose, it transcends the packaging of gender, colour, shape, size. A meaningful purpose reaches deep in to the hearts of others and calls them forward to a better version of themselves, and of the world around us.

The real secret to Gravitas then is this: a purpose of service, the ability to connect deeply, and the courage to share our voice

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