If you turn on the news today, you might be wondering, where are we headed in terms of leadership behavior? What’s expected, condoned, encouraged, or allowed? Are there core values or key behavioral descriptors that we agree we’d like to see in our leaders?
Throughout the years, many of my business clients have asked me, “Can you teach someone to have gravitas?” It seems that over time, gravitas has become viewed as a cherished character quality in the leadership ranks (and not one easily taught, by the way). Lately, gravitas seems to be up for grabs!
Gravitas comes from the Latin meaning “weighty,” and over the years, our society has come to expect that our leaders understand the weight of their words. A leader with gravitas demonstrates self-restraint and a calm composure which engenders trust in their decision-making, thereby allaying potential fears of their followers. Having gravitas means one behaves with dignity, and honors the dignity of other individuals by avoiding ridicule or public shaming. Criticism is cloaked with compassion and diplomacy, so as to affect a better response (versus a reaction) from others. Even in battle, throughout the centuries man developed rituals which allowed the loser to surrender with some form of dignity. How much of that do we see today?
Today the world is changing both rapidly and radically. We have a whole generation of millennials who’ve entered the workforce and brought with them a set of behaviors, candor and quick response being among those. We have politicians who argue one side of an issue for years, then blatantly refuse to admit it once their stance has changed. We have country leaders who don’t pause to analyze what they are hearing and seeing, nor carefully choose their words, but rather, they rush into the fray. So what’s relevant in today’s world? If gravitas is still important, in what circles would that be?
Where have those values gone? Or, are they still relevant? It used to be said, “May the better man win” in battle. Today it seems more like “may the bigger bully win.” It will be interesting to see where this form of diplomacy takes us. We cry out in horror at the use of poisonous gas, but what about poisonous words?
In the past, when gravitas was honored rather than forgotten or mostly minimized, you might hear our leaders speak with candor, but underneath that was strong character and compassion. Abe Lincoln was a great testament to this, and that is why he still is revered by most Americans today as one of our greatest leaders of all time. He stands as the example of a leader with gravitas, one who could bring our country together when it was truly ripped apart.
Is gravitas still important today? 250 years later? Let’s count on it. After all, it’s the courage and character of Americans that makes this country great!
©2018 Marie Moran