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Leadership through change – and where gravitas fits in

The moment you’ve got your shiny new iPhone out of the box, Apple brings out a new one to tempt you. No sooner you’ve wrapped your head around the latest organisational changes, more are on the horizon. This results in an unrelenting demand for rapid reaction and adaption, dictated by the relentless pings into your inbox.

The reverberations of this evolution occur at all levels across an organisation. This is brilliant for progress, but also a double-edged sword. In the ongoing march for innovation, people at the coalface are continually having to react and adjust. The ongoing implementation of small tweaks and large-scale changes can be exhausting and we can sometimes get left behind. Increasing demand for new skills can mean we feel lost or unsure of our role, resulting in disengagement, overwhelm and stress. As an executive coach and leadership facilitator, I’ve lost count of the people suffering from ‘change fatigue’: battle weary from the pressure to continually adapt.

So what’s the answer?

Part of the secret lies in managing expectations. The classic phrase from Herclitus: ‘the only thing that is constant is change’ should be a caveat written into all change communications. At the same time, people need someone who has sight of the overall vision and goal – a trusted leader who understands why a certain direction has been chosen and consequently brings the best out of people through these changes. People can be surprisingly resilient and generally don’t mind moving deckchairs as long as they’re confident the ship is heading towards safe waters.

So what is leadership and where does gravitas, a term coined around Heraclitus’ time, come in? Despite many organisations adopting a ‘flat’ structure, with titles not always denoting seniority, many people are still under the impression that you can only be a leader if you are ‘in charge’ of other people. This is most certainly not the case. As Rosabeth Moss Kantar put it in When Giants Learn to Dance, “The new kind of business hero must learn to operate without the might of the hierarchy behind [them]. The crutch of authority must be thrown away and replaced by their own ability to make relationships, use influence and work with others to achieve results”.

Aside from the traditional concept of leadership, some individuals are subject matter experts and have earned the right to lead in their area of expertise. And no matter what level you’re at or where you are in your life, it is possible to lead by steering your own course and making a positive difference to what’s going on around you.

What does it take to be a great leader?

Given today’s shifting sands landscape, emotional intelligence is the foundation that great and truly effective leadership is built upon. EQ is made up of knowing what makes you tick and how to harness your own emotions, combined with the ability to understand what’s going on with other people and how to get the best out relationships.

As well as EQ, having a continual eye on the horizon (what’s coming next), and the ability to reflect on what has happened before and learn from it, is what make a great modern-day leader. Again, awareness is key. Although it’s possible for leaders to move from sector to sector and still be effective, it is crucial that they take the time to immerse themselves in the intricacies of their environment and culture. This is best done by taking the initiative to talk to the people who are dealing with challenges day to day.

What’s the link between leadership and gravitas?

Although vision and EQ are integral to leadership, it is also essential that those in charge can command respect and get taken seriously, whether talking to the new graduate intake or chairing a shareholders meeting. When your organisation is going through a rocky patch, it’s important that people take you seriously and respect you. You can only stand your ground if you’re grounded within yourself. Gravitas, more than any other quality is what will get you there.

What is Gravitas?

In researching my book, I examined the characteristics that leaders with gravitas share in the 21st century. One of the first things I noticed is that although gravitas, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, the extent to which people see gravitas in you is within your power to control. If you feel worthy of people’s attention and respect, you will be more likely to receive it.

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

Becoming a great leader isn’t about winning a popularity contest and sometimes you will need to sacrifice likeability for respect. People may fall in love with leaders who are charismatic, however this sparkly quality isn’t enough in times of change. Although winning hearts and minds is key to implementing change, there will be times when as a leader you will need to deliver unwelcome news, tell people what to do and take control.  

If you’re looking to become more aware of your leadership strengths, I recommend the Gravitas Profiling Tool, a simple three-step assessment and personalised report. To accelerate your potential, sign up for our next Gravitas Masterclass, or contact us to discuss our corporate programmes.

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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