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Gravitas a quality prized by employers

  • Published Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, at 6:36 a.m.

Remember gravitas?

We used to hear it a lot in a political context or part of a campaign – when people questioned whether a candidate had the weightiness to be respected or handle the demands of office.

The word actually dates to ancient Rome, where it was identified as a virtue representing dignity and depth of character.

Beyond politics, the word is cropping up more often in the workplace. I’m hearing employers say they’re looking for gravitas when they interview job candidates, even for entry-level jobs.

It’s become the latest buzzword to signify that employers are looking for poise, confidence and communication skills.

It means they want you to convince them that you have the ability and commitment to handle the demands of the job.

According to a study from the Center for Talent Innovation, gravitas is even more important if you want to be considered leadership or promotion material.

“Gravitas is the core characteristic of executive presence,” according to 67 percent of the 268 senior executives surveyed by the center, a New York think tank that studies talent management.

In most organizations, if you want to be an executive, you need to dress, talk and act like the executives who are already there.

Admittedly, traits that convey executive potential differ among workplaces.

It’s up to you to figure out the prized leadership values at your target or existing job site. But rest assured, some measure of gravitas is involved.

That’s why it can be hard for some women, young people and minorities to win the gravitas label if they don’t look, dress, talk or act like the executives in their organizations.

It’s possible, though, to practice and project gravitas traits. Start by dressing to reflect the job you want, not the job you have.

Then pay attention to voice modulation — deeper, more measured speech — and think before you speak.

Many women and young men need to guard against rising inflection at the end of sentences. Statements that sound like questions diminish the impression of authority.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at the Kansas City Star. Reach her at dstaffordkcstar.com.

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