White Paper: “How To Cultivate Gravitas”


A dictionary definition of gravitas is “a serious and solemn attitude or way of behaving”. To the ancient Roman republic, it meant dignity, seriousness and duty, one of the essential virtues expected of men to possess. However in my view, it’s not about taking oneself seriously – it’s about taking what one does seriously.

Why bother to cultivate it?

In order to convince and especially promote your interests in business, the decision maker needs to know, like and trust you. Cultivating gravitas is a compelling business strategy for establishing credibility, respect and trust. With gravitas, you show yourself to be a leader who inspires confidence and wins business.


Take care to look the part. An interesting study revealed that if a vet dressed ‘down’, they were rated as low in effectiveness. However if they dressed in a white coat and wore a stethoscope (however superfluous), they were rated as highly effective! Go to hairdressers to get the best advice on how your hair should look. Go to an image consultant to match your colouring, your style and the context of the clothes you are wearing. Go to the gym to increase your fitness. Buy expensive shoes and keep them polished – people DO notice. Make sure your nails are carefully manicured. Make your appearance looks at least one level better than expectation to make an impact.

Occupy your space

Imagine the 18” the British traditionally claim around the body. To increase a sense of ‘presence’ when you walk into a room, increase the space around you to include the room and enfold everyone in it. To create energy within you, imagine that you have a secret that no one else knows and go into the room thinking this. On entering the room, pause in the doorway and look round. Then move forward towards a group where the body language suggests they are open to others joining them. Even when you think that people are turned away from you, their peripheral vision will catch your entrance and make unconscious assumptions about what to make of you.

Value your words

Be sparing and measured in your speech and make every word count. People with presence say relatively little. Though everything they say counts – valuing quality over quantity. You have no need to raise your voice – in fact, you will have people leaning forward to catch your words if you speak firmly yet quietly. And according to research, for men, the female voice is more complex and more difficult to hear and understand. A concern is that women’s higher pitch can be interpreted as subordinate. So for women to gain authority in the workplace, they need to deepen their vocal delivery and make it more deliberate.

Hold the silence

Before you speak, hold the pause to ensure others’ attention. When you have finished speaking, stop talking. You communicate very powerfully by your silence.

Set the mood

Before you enter the room, focus on how you want everyone in the room to feel. People are only too willing to be guided by you so set the tone and mood. You gain the influence to set the agenda for the rest of the meeting.

Act ‘powerfully’

Make sure your unconscious signals are powerful: your movements and delivery deliberate and you use the major key in your voice to convey certainty.

Feeling disempowered?

In a situation where you are likely to feel unsure or lacking in knowledge –and especially if you are talking with someone who is an expert, change the role that you are playing.  Ask searching and challenging questions to keep them thinking. Give incisive summaries of what you have heard to make it clear you are still powerfully attentive. If you get interrupted when speaking, look irritated and immediately cut in to repeat what you were saying. And ladies, cut down on smiling. It can be seen as placatory and submissive. Make your smile the reward.

Give your undivided attention

Give eye contact and quieten your internal chatter. Make space to absorb what’s being said and especially HOW it’s communicated. Become consciously aware of the subtext of body language and vocal tone (the hidden 95% of thought processes). It will give you a lot of information as to how you want to respond. Then make your response deliberate and targeted. Be like Clinton – make the person you are talking to feel the most important person in the room.

Note taking

Expect to take notes – you are valuing what you hear and are taking the information to digest at a later date.  However do not scribble furiously – others are likely to dismiss you as the minute-taker, particularly if you are a woman.

And finally – don’t expect to be liked!

I have noticed a divide between the intentions of men and women in this context. Men on initial meeting tend to seek respect and women, rapport. Having gravitas is to gain respect from those around you. Gaining respect is far more valuable in business than being loved since even now, business is male-centric. Respect gives you instant credibility and therefore you are taken seriously. In the commercial world, people need to know, like and trust you to follow your lead. Having established respect and credibility, building rapport later will encourage them to want to like you and put business your way.

Email me sarah@anrah.co.uk or phone +44 (0)7939 261743 if you want to follow up on any thoughts you have about increasing your gravitas. I’d be happy to discuss things with you.

Sarah McCloughry FRSA
Anrah Development Limited
CSSD (1974), London Univ, member of the British Voice Association
+44 (0)1865 243655
+44 (0)7939 261743

“I was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last Saturday. Thank you for all your help and support that has contributed to this.”
Alison Noble, Technikos Professor and Director of Oxford University’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering

23 thoughts on “White Paper: “How To Cultivate Gravitas”

  1. Pingback: White Paper: “How To Cultivate Gravitas” | Opendoorz Business Networking

  2. Well done! Every business person should read this! I knew a salesperson who used a technique on every sales call. He would take out a hard cover book and inform the other members of the meeting that he would be taking careful notes to make sure nothing was missed. He made a ritual out of it! It worked!

    I like your other points – too many people never look in the mirror!



    • Interesting, Norman! The sales process I was taught underlines the importance of asking permission to write notes and then using them to note up to 10 concerns the prospect has that you have a solution for, gleaned from questioning. It demonstrates more than any words, how you value the other’s thoughts and opinions.

      And you’re so right – not many people evaluate their impact, either positive or negative, from their appearance and presence. As in other areas, it’s hugely important when fostering and negotiating higher level relationships.

  3. This is very interesting as I have just been “hit by a bus” following feedback I received from a new client after running a programme kick off workshop. I walked out of the meeting feeling that the meeting went well as the atmosphere was relaxed and I passed questions to each of the experts round the table.

    The client later raised concerns that I lacked gravitas and did not want me to run the programme. I have been searching/re-searching what that means until I stumbles to this site. Thank you, I will try and adapt these to see what difference it makes.

    I always felt that being friendly and relaxed was a better way to work, but apparently not.

    The challenge now is – can I turn around this perception? if so, how long does it take.

  4. Excellent piece, not many people know what gravitas is, and yet this unspoken quality is probably more responsible than anything else for success, in business and life.

    • Many thanks, Tom. It’s an privilege to have you comment on this piece. And you’re quite right. Gravitas is that unspoken quality that makes people outstanding and memorable.

  5. Anrah – a really useful article. I recently watched “The West Wing” and President Bartlett exudes a lot of what you describe here, especially not taking HIMSELF seriously but what he DOES.

    Evidently this takes practice and requires feedback from realiable sources. Can you recommend any further reading on this?

    • Thanks, Zak for your thoughts. I heartily agree that Martin Sheen’s masterly portrayal of President Bartlett demonstrates quiet power that’s compelling and impactful. He is taken very seriously – the definition of gravitas.

      I don’t know of any book – unless of course I write it myself! Thanks for the prompt.

  6. I also find your blog very useful and interesting. I think it’s particularly pertinent to women in the workplace and particularly the comment about women smiling more is very true. It would be interesting to hear more on this topic.

    • Many thanks for your comments, Mim. And I heartily agree. Women have a greater task even now of proving themselves to be of leadership material than do men since we have few role models. Many of us have also grown up with cultural expectations of women being care givers, followers, soft and pliable. We need to evolve those cultural expectations so they incorporate women as leaders, initiators and visionary innovators. Since this is also what we can be and are. So yes, adapting our behaviour for others to follow and be inspired by us means we have to look like leaders. Smiling can be too ‘nice’ to convince. Have a look at my latest blog post for clues “10 Ways to get Leadership Gravitas” http://anrah.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/10-ways-to-get-leadership-gravitas/.

  7. Thanks, Robin for your kind and positive remarks. The people who’ve helped me create a beautiful upgrade to my blog are from Catherine Young Ltd – Cat and her team have been fantastically supportive and creative and I strongly recommend them http://www.catyoung.co.uk. Really pleased too that you say it loads so quickly on Chrome.

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  9. Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just
    sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.

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    • I’m touched that you’ve taken the trouble to write an appreciation. Thank you.

      Thinking about your request, it seems to me that you have a choice. Actually, my blog posts tend to be far too long! As you’ll know, the root of blog is web log – i.e. diary. A strong recommendation is to set aside 15 minutes every day to write something that will take 5 minutes to read – that’s what most people have available. So….do as I say, not as I do! I normally put aside 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon over a coffee in a local pub to write about whatever comes to mind. And what I have at the end of it isn’t at all what I envisage either. Mind you, it does help to have a theme in mind. At the moment, I’m keen to develop my own thinking around cultivating gravitas, particularly in women leaders. Since they are my target market.

      So, Tesha, what and who are your specific targets? What are their concerns that you have a solution for? What do they need to know from you? What sort of relationship do you want to start building with them through your blog posts? This is a marketing opportunity so test and measure. Find out – ask your clients what their primary concerns are about SEO. What do they want to achieve for their websites? How do they think they’re going about getting it? These, I hope are questions you’ve already asked!

  10. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic
    blog. A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

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    • Thanks, David. Much appreciated. You’re right, a few images are helpful and I am including them more and more. Look forward to your return.

  11. Hi Sarah, thanks for putting in to words what a lot of us learn only the hard way and yet so often fail to realise and implement. Further practical and “measureable” tips would be great.

    • Thanks, Sara. Will do. I often give tips in the blog section though appreciate that they can get lost. Thanks for the feedback.

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