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GRAVITAS AND GRACE: Watching history in the making

What did you think of the Biden/Harris inauguration ceremony last week?

Watching that evening on catch-up, curled up on the sofa with my husband and teenage daughters, it felt right that we were sharing this historical moment together. 

Having observed the endless, polarizing political wranglings and tuned out of so much of the shouting and mud-slinging during the election, it seemed to me we were finally at a real turning point in political leadership. Where balance and humility might reign. 

Through the lens of diversity and inclusion, there were so many exemplary moments. The triumph of a smiling Kamala Harris being sworn in as Vice President, the first woman of colour in a position of real power in the White House. The multi-ethnic representation and balance of male/female players both on stage and in the audience demonstrating a significant sea change. We had Jo-Lo appealing directly to the Hispanic community in Spanish. And Lady Gaga championing the LBGTQ community as she sang the national anthem. 

The smiles and fist bumps added to the warmth and authenticity of the ceremony, quite a feat in a socially distanced environment. The confidence, partnership and connection between Harris and Biden was evidenced in every interaction. At a time of such political and social unrest, they looked like the powerhouse that will bring about the change that’s needed.

In these challenging times, gravitas is more relevant and important than ever. Remaining calm, being grounded, sailing the ship confidently, commanding respect – these are all vital to the new US presidential team’s success in bringing the country together and showing they can be trusted. 

In my book Leading with Gravitas, I explore the mindset and communication style required to lead during change and disruption. We evidence gravitas through our words, tone and body language. At the inauguration there were specific oratorical devices that lent weight to the words. Devices which any leader can draw on when they want their message to land. 

In Biden’s opening statements, we had aliteration and repetition. In his 21 minute address, we had playing with words in poetic ways. There was vocal variety, from soft to loud and back again, the selective use of “I”, “we” and “us”, metaphors and storytelling and passion coming through content and delivery at key times. 

“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve. Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause, a cause of democracy. The people – the will of the people – has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded…

“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibility. Much to do, much to heal, much to restore, much to build and much to gain…

“We will lead not by the example of our power but by the power of our example”. 

And it wasn’t just the leaders who lifted the cold, grey day. Twenty two year old Amanda Gorman, youth poet laureate, who has described herself as a “weird child”, stole the show with a beautiful combination of gravitas and grace. With her words, tone, poise and balletic gestures, not to mention the canary yellow Prada coat and scarlet hairband gifted to her by Oprah Winfrey. As she challenging us to note that “what just is isn’t always justice”, she simply shone.

If you missed it, go back and find it on YouTube and picture for yourself the difference between what you are watching and what the alternative could have been with a different electoral outcome. If ever gravitas were needed it is now. This was an unforgettable event where it came into its own.

The second edition of Leading with Gravitas, out in February 2021, includes a new chapter on leading through change and specific guidance for leaders on virtual presence. Pre-order yours here. 

The next Gravitas Masterclass takes place on the 12th March. The next Gravitas for Women retreat is on 15th and 16th April.

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Photo credits: Yolande de Vries, Annie Armitage
© Antoinette Dale Henderson
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