Call it gravitas or charisma – it’s the quality that distinguishes statesmen from politicians

A while back, I wrote about an essential quality that distinguishes exceptional leaders from the second tier.  Originally I produced a small pamphlet on the topic [now posted as a blog entry], and it has been one of the most widely appreciated things I have written, I think.  Which is very nice!  Certainly, most months someone will comment on it or ask me to expand on something to do with it.  This month was no exception, and I thought I’d share my response to the gentleman concerned with a wider audience.

I’m always intrigued that there aren’t more books on gravitas – which is a challenge I need to rise to one of these days!  There are many more books on ‘charisma’ (such as Andrew Leigh’s “The Charisma Effect“).  I’d suggest that you browse Amazon and look for titles that work for you.

That said, I’m not entirely sure that it is something that can be ‘learned’ directly from a book.  To my mind, it requires a three-pronged approach:

  • Keen observation of many other people looking especially for their gravitas and charismatic traits and identifying a few role models* along the way.
  • Wide reading** – biographies of people with what you experience as gravitas (depending on your perspective… The Clinton Charisma might be an example); books about the psychology of groundedness in men (Ken Wilber is a good starting point (eg A Reader) as is Robert Bly (Iron John)).  There are two British radio journalists who, I feel captured this nicely in their day (Alastair Cooke, whose Letters From America are available in audio book form, and Kate Aidie, whose biography, The Kindness of Strangers, was available on Audio CD).
  • Reflective practice – I always recommend the practice of journalling (it is the time-tested way by which elder statesmen have developed their understanding of the world) but I believe it needs to be reinforced in a more dynamic manner by having someone (a coach, psychotherapist, or (of course!) a confidant) who can help you explore your interpretation of the world.

Of course, it helps if you can define what ‘gravitas’ or ‘charisma’ are…  one way of describing them, that some men find easier to relate to is to say that it is an attitude to the world that is similar to that of a quietly inquisitive child or, indeed, a foreign correspondent.

* One simple exercise that I suggest to clients, and use myself, is to create an imaginary ‘Advisory Board’ of half a dozen people who you feel have or had the elusive quality.  They may be people you know, people who are alive, people who you don’t know but who project the right impression, people who are dead, and even fictional characters.  I even suggest that my clients create a handout/montage with pictures of these half a dozen people on it, that they can carry around in a notebook.  Faced with a situation, (for example, about to enter a difficult meeting, preparing an important speech, making a tough decision) I ask them to take the picture and briefly ask themselves what would each of those individuals do, or have done, in the same circumstances.

** Another blog that might stimulate the thinking (though I realise it is only some people’s cup of tea) is the Art of Manliness – a US blog that’s been going for a while.

I hope that helps.  If you’d like to talk it through I am only a Skype call away (Skypeid:drgrahamwilson).  If you feel so inclined, do sign up for my monthly update as I aim to sum up my blog posts, add any other items I hope will interest people and generally just keep in touch.  You can sign up from my website –

With best wishes

Graham Wilson – 07785 222380
PS My Business Book of the Week is “Future Minds: How The Digital Age is Changing Our Minds, Why This Matters and What We Can Do About It” by Richard Watson (30/10/10) – Helping leaders see situations, organisations, themselves and others, differently – Motivation and advice for senior executives exploring new opportunities – Supporting your alumni now; building a network of advocates for the future

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