Do you lack gravitas? Recently several senior women entirely independently have contacted me because they’d been told this by their superiors.
This information is hard to digest. Most people know it when they see it. And they miss it when it’s not there. But how many know how to acquire it? I’d bet if anyone of those superiors was asked to be specific, they would talk in vague terms about inner command, authority and executive presence. They wouldn’t be able to pinpoint how to get it.
In my early twenties, I was appointed teacher in a large (2,300 pupils) comprehensive secondary school. Over the course of the following years I learnt that in order to survive, I had to impose my authority very quickly. If I didn’t, I would be regarded as ‘soft’ and easily dominated. Being quite introverted, I felt I was distorting my personality to exert power in this way. Though yes, in the first few weeks of the autumn term, I insisted my pupils stood up when I came into the room. I didn’t smile. Instead I raised eyebrows and stared in silence if there was a hint of misbehaviour. Indeed, before I entered the classroom, I had to prepare myself by setting my intention to stay in control the class. After a few weeks when I had satisfied myself the class was compliant, I then could afford be more warm and pleasant and more naturally myself. It gave me room to manoeuvre.
In retrospect, what gave me the power over my class was both internal and external. Internally I had to choose to lead – or at the very least, pretend to. It was a conscious choice. My external behaviour was set by that internal choice.
A friend and I last Sunday had a treat watching that enjoyable film, “To Sir With Love”. Sidney Poitier plays a teacher who admirably commands extremely difficult young people with quiet gravitas. He doesn’t befriend them, he doesn’t pander to them. He expects and shows respect to each of them. He expects them to show that respect to each other. What he gets in return is love – and not only from his class. He gets it from the parents, friends and relations of his pupils.
How does he do it? How does one ‘get’ gravitas?
- Let go of trying to prove yourself.
- Recognise your values and strengths. Pay attention to your resourcefulness.
- Cultivate inner stillness.
- Stay focused.
- Allow pauses and silence. Wait before replying.
- Be aware of your opinion though keep it to yourself. Only state it when and where necessary.
- Ask questions rather than supply answers.
- Be succinct.
- Be relaxed about your mistakes.
- Keep your eye on the prize. Be strategic in your thinking.