How to Have Gravitas as a Business Owner

March 6, 2018 | Roger and Susie Engelau

Some people are born with charisma but most of us have to attain it.

Executive presence, the “it” factor, inspirational leadership… whatever you call it, it’s critical if you want stakeholders—customers, prospects, employees, suppliers—to do business with you.

How does gravitas as a business owner benefit your business?

  • Poor executive presence in a customer meeting can leave them thinking you’re not a good long term provider for them. If they don’t perceive you as sophisticated, they may not view your products and services as sophisticated.
  • If you appear disinterested—asking no questions, little eye contact—it plants a seed of doubt that you’ll really understand a prospect’s needs.
  • Your banker can think “these financials look ok but what about this person?” Is s/he capable of being successful long term? 
  • Suppliers, lawyers, your CPA… do they feel like you’re a good long term partner? If you stumble over your words, go on long, drawn-out explanations, give fuzzy, unfocused answers with thoughts bouncing around, they may wonder if you’re capable of running a business well.
  • Do members of your community feel like you’re going to make a positive impact? If not, you’re not going to get mentioned to their circles of influence or, government entities may not be confident in helping you expand.
  • You want the best employees you can get and you want them to have confidence that if they join their life to yours, it’s going to be positive for them. It’s tough to attract the best and brightest if you don’t appear competent and confident. That stellar sales manager you want to hire will choose the business leader who does.
  • Gravitas as a business owner is important if you want your employees to believe what you say. If you don’t look them in the eye when you’re talking about the company’s new strategy, they’ll wonder if you’re really committed to it. If you’re calm and cool during a problem, your team feels confident that they can solve that problem.

Gravitas as a business owner starts from within

The real challenge is authenticity. Everything that you present to the world starts on the inside. You have to believe you’re a capable business owner who’s been successful. Competence is about having good knowledge of your business and it’s also having good sound general business knowledge. If you have these things as part of your DNA, they’ll tend to exude themselves.

In her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, Sylvia Hewlett and the Center for Talent Innovation describe executive presence as a combination of gravitas, communication, and appearance, with each having a weighted value:

  1. Gravitas (how you act) – 67% — intellectual horsepower, that you can go “six questions deep,” confidence, credibility, and grace under fire
  2. Communication (how you speak) – 28% — your verbal skills, ability to command a room, voice tone, with eye contact as a surprisingly important aspect
  3. Appearance (how you look) – 5% — grooming and polish, body type, and physical appearance

Concrete ways to attain GRAVITAS as a business owner

After culling from several resources, here’s a collection of the best actions you can take to appear competent and confident:

  • Know your opinion and state it clearly and succinctly.
  • Maintain a calm no matter how upset you are. Becoming visibly upset diminishes others’ confidence. Figure out what triggers you—interruptions, accusations, name-calling, repeated mistakes, competing priorities, lack of time, etc.—and be prepared for those moments.
  • Stick to positive self-talk and avoid self-put-downs.
  • Surround yourself by people who are better than you.
  • Be generous with credit and don’t be heard blaming.
  • Stick to what you know.
  • Show warmth.
  • Be present in the moment; give all of your attention to whoever’s talking to you.

Concrete ways to practice charismatic COMMUNICATION

  • Practice saying things aloud alone (in your car, in the shower) before you say them to others to keep you from using too many words or fumbling your words.
  • Master presentation skills.
  • Maintain eye contact, smile, and nod.
  • Paraphrase to confirm your own understanding or to confirm to your listener that you’re really hearing him/er

Concrete ways to insure your appearance doesn’t undermine your results

While we’re all perfect in God’s eyes, people can react in unpredictable ways to certain physical factors. It’s unfortunate but true… if you don’t pass this filter, little you say or do matters. If you appear disheveled, ungroomed, and disorganized you won’t be asked back.

As a small business owner, the most important aspect of your brand is your personal image. Does your prospect, team, or supplier see awkward, nervous, messy, and thrown-together? 

Top tips from image consultants:

  • Get a great hairstyle.
  • Use clothes to hide physical features that bother you.
  • Insure your clothes fit you well.
  • Cease nervous habits like chewing cuticles, playing with hair, rubbing the knee or ankle of your crossed leg, putting your hands anywhere on your face, jingling change in your pocket, and bouncing your foot or leg.
  • Whiten teeth.
  • Clean and trim nails.
  • Update or straighten eyeglasses.

For those aspects that can’t be changed, covered, or overcome:

  • Clothing can minimize or hide some.
  • Would a visit to the dentist, doctor, or professional image consultant improve an aspect or two?
  • Talk about it right up front and use humor to put others at ease so they can focus on the good content you have to deliver.
  • Ask someone else to lead that presentation, sales pitch, or important meeting.

Gravitas as a business owner is a powerful tool. The ability to exude competence and confidence is an inspirational influencer for customers, partners, employees, and the success or failure of your company.