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Gravitas and charisma: what’s the difference?

  • Want to boost your leadership skills?
  • Unsure about the difference between gravitas and charisma?
  • Wondering how to develop these critical qualities?

Central to any leader’s role is the ability to engage, persuade, motivate and inspire. You want your teams to be inspired to follow you, care enough to give you their full attention, and do their utmost to deliver their very best. Whether you’re delivering good, bad or indifferent news in negotiations, debates, conflicts and speeches, you want your clients, customers, shareholders, board members and colleagues to listen to you and respect you.

This means you need the ability to capture attention – and hold it.

Without this crucial skill, you could struggle to engage your teams. It would be it difficult for you to be heard in meetings and you’ll get interrupted regularly. Perhaps you’ll miss out on promotion opportunities, even though you are more than qualified for the role. You may not even be noticed when you enter a room. People might not remember your name or which department you belong to. And, at networking events, you’d find yourself being ignored.

You might be the kind of person who sometimes finds it easier to keep a low profile, but actively cultivating a presence – and knowing how and when to ‘dial it up’ when you need to – is key to getting the recognition you deserve.

You may well have relevant technical expertise to share. However, in many situations, it’s not so much what you know, it’s how you convey it that’s important. Success often boils down to who you are as a leader and how you present yourself in front of the audiences that matter.

It all comes down to two key leadership qualities: gravitas and charisma.

I often get asked: “What’s the difference between gravitas and charisma?” This often leads onto the question: “How do you develop each?”

This article will answer those questions.

Defining Gravitas and Charisma

You probably recognise when someone has gravitas, even though you may not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is. You are likely to notice a charismatic person, but you’re not sure what it is about them that conveys that quality.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of each:

  • Gravitas: Dignity, seriousness or solemnity of manner
  • Charisma: Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others

In an organisational context, gravitas is about respect, while charisma is about likeability.

Gravitas is linked to professionalism, and charisma is about personality. People with gravitas have credibility, people with charisma radiate approachability.

People with gravitas convey a present, calm, centred and grounded energy (a gravitational pull); people with charisma emit a magnetic quality that pulls people towards them (a magnetic exchange of energy).

Both gravitas and charisma are compelling and enigmatic leadership qualities.

When is each most appropriate?

Gravitas is crucial when you want to command respect, get taken seriously and stand out from the crowd.

This is particularly important when your organisation is going through a period of transformation or upheaval. At these times, more than ever, people look to their leaders to display a calm and measured approach as they assess learnings from the past, provide reassurance and guidance around the present, and communicate a compelling vision of the future.

It’s a quality that leaders often need to demonstrate when stepping up to the next level – whether that’s moving to a new organisation or transitioning to the board. It’s useful whenever people ask you (or ask themselves): “What do you bring? “What makes you different?” “Can we trust you?”.

Charisma is a valuable quality to transmit when you want to inspire, engage and galvanise a crowd.

It’s also invaluable when you want to make a powerful impact and be remembered after you’ve left the room, such as when networking. It helps you captivate an audience on stage, in meetings and town halls.

If you want people to remember you and want to be around you, it’s charisma you need, as it inspires loyalty and followship.

How to develop Gravitas and Charisma

The good news is that both qualities can be cultivated. In knowing the mindset and communication techniques, you can create your own version of each, in your own authentic way.

This isn’t about behaving like someone else or “faking it ’til you make it”. You can do it, but you do need a plan. (Obviously, I can help with that!)

Replace your verbal habits with silence. Pauses are easier on the ear and give your audience time to process what you’ve said. Less is more.

Prepare your thoughts in advance, for example: “This is important because…”, “This is the outcome I’m looking for…”, “This is what I want…” Keep your points succinct and avoid over-explaining.

 Be grounded with Gravitas

As you may know, I recently launched the second edition of my book Leading With Gravitas.

In researching the book, I examined the characteristics that leaders with gravitas share in the 21st century, characteristics which you can emulate if you are looking to develop your leadership style.

One of the first things I realised is that gravitas is defined not by how you see yourself, but by the perception of the people around you – your audiences – and so it is up to them to decide whether you have ‘it’ or not.

However, although gravitas, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, the good news is that the extent to which people see gravitas in you is within your power to determine. If you feel worthy of people’s attention and respect, you will be more likely to receive it.

In addition to a clear purpose and conviction, I found that leaders with gravitas share a number of internal qualities that reflect their beliefs, values and personal identity, and external qualities that determine how they present themselves to the outside world and are experienced by others. 

Your ability to access these qualities is steered by emotional intelligence, which is born out of a highly cultivated ability to know and manage yourself and read and adapt to other people.

How to develop Gravitas 

At a fundamental level, a leader with gravitas has spent time exploring who they are, and their unique purpose in life. Whether corporate or community leader, entrepreneur or business owner, they look beyond their immediate horizon to the world on a wider scale, and are willing to make a contribution that is beyond personal gain, working towards what they believe in without getting carried away by their own personal agenda.

In addition to possessing strong foundations, a leader with gravitas has the ability to communicate with conviction, earning admiration through their actions, words and ability to listen. This conviction gives them a certainty which inspires others: they know what they are there to achieve, their line of sight is focused on a compelling future and, as such, they ‘walk their talk’.

Here are some practical tips:

  • If you want to be taken seriously, be serious about yourself
    • Ask yourself: What’s my purpose here? What difference do I want to make?
      • Build self-awareness: obtain feedback on strengths and blind spots
        • Go slow to go fast. To accelerate impact, reflect carefully on what’s being said and when you want to speak, do so in a measured tone
          • Choose ‘selective vulnerability’: open up to others, but don’t overshare
            • Ground yourself: plant your feet, stand tall, keep your head up and shoulders back
              • Prioritise respect over likeability
                • Care less about what other people think
                  • Prepare to succeed, don’t wing it
                    • Bring empathy to your interactions: pay attention and listen

                    Be captivating with Charisma…

                    In a recent poll, I asked people to name leaders in the public eye who have charisma and why. The results were eye-opening, with celebrated qualities including people who are “unapologetically themselves”, “comfortable in their own skin”, “full of sparkle”, “glowing from within” and “clever, with a sense of humour”.

                    As well as these personal qualities, charisma is undoubtedly linked to attractiveness and allure. But this doesn’t have to be about your physical attributes or sexuality. It could equally be something else people are drawn to, for example, your ability to make everyone laugh, your ability to build rapport or the care you show in making sure everyone’s feels welcome and included.

                    Charisma is also about influencing others through your interestingness and personal appeal.

                    Although we may not all feel comfortable using our physical allure, the power of holding someone’s attention because what we’re offering is unusual, exciting or compelling is something we can all develop.

                    How to develop Charisma

                    Being charismatic means sparkling and igniting sparks in those around you. This can be turned on or off at will – you are in control of the energy you give out and therefore the energy you attract.

                    In my book, Power Up, I talk about ‘allure’ being the ability to attract attention through using your authentic style. We are all unique and special in our own way. For example, you might have a captivating smile, a distinctive sense of style, a signature scent, a contagious laugh, deep curiosity about the world, passion for your subject, unshakeable drive or the ability to tell an enthralling story.

                    Allure can be active, such as speaking in a compelling voice, or passive, such as being humble when praising the role of your team in contrast to a colleague who takes all the glory.

                    Here are some practical tips:

                    • Don’t stand around moaning and being closed off
                    • Don’t be negative or bitchy
                    • Don’t put yourself down, even humorously
                    • Allow yourself to exude positivity so you fizz with life and energy
                    • Stride into a room with a smile
                    • Adopt strong and powerful postures to boost your confidence levels
                    • Dress attractively in a way that enhances your physique: if you’re tall, be a tall poppy, if you’re diminutive, occupy your space
                    • Be generous in conversation, allowing others to take the limelight
                    • Ask good questions and be a good listener
                    • Pay people genuine compliments

                    What next?

                    To develop your own gravitas and charisma, check out my next event.

                    For more information about both qualities, please see my books: Leading with Gravitas and Power Up

                    Antoinette Dale Henderson

                    The Gravitas Coach

                    Antoinette is an executive coach, keynote speaker and two-time author with over 25 years’ experience in leadership communications, including 16 years holding senior positions in some of the world’s top PR agencies.

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                    Have you noticed that there are some people who capture the attention of everyone in a room, through their magnetism and energy?

                    To discuss how Antoinette and her team can accelerate your success, book a call now!

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