One of the things I struggled with as a young buck was how to be taken seriously. Over the years I discovered the concept of Gravitas. While I have never intentionally sought to develop gravitas, more and more I understood the importance of it. To be taken seriously by others (and by yourself for that matter) makes a huge difference in your professional development – and payscale. You notice it right away; are people cutting you off when you speak or are they hanging on at the edge of the seat to hear what you have to say.
Demand a seat at the table
When I was working for the Serbian government I organized a high-level round table. While I was attending the meeting, an older person walked into the room. I had no clue who he was but he looked important and so I relinquished my seat at the table so he could join the round table. “What the fuck just happened,” I thought. I gave up my seat at the table to someone I didn’t even know, purely based on the fact he looked more senior. I vowed never to do that anymore. In general being at the table or in the room marks seniority. Brace yourself. People will not give you a seat at the table out of sympathy. It is either because you have become vital to the process or because you demanded it. This takes a bit of gut, but my experience is that if you simply state: “I need to be in the room” and “I want to hear everything first hand”, it goes a long way. But don’t offer to take notes in exchange for being in the room. It is anything but gravitas.
Speak up and be visible
If you think you have something valuable to contribute to meetings; speak up! Don’t let others dominate the room and let a meeting go by without your valuable contribution. However, don’t speak up just for the sake of speaking up. This will erode your credibility and in turn, hurt your gravitas. I remember that there were times when I was the ultimate expert in the room and yet I thought I was not senior enough to raise concerns. I always regretted this because later I could have saved the group a lot of trouble by contributing. In the same vein, if you have an important Teams or Zoom meeting, don’t shut off your camera. Never make yourself smaller or hope that no one notices you.
Speak truth to power
Nothing signals seniority than speaking truth to power. So when everybody agrees with the MP, minister or even president, be the devil’s advocate. Of course, don’t be a pain in the ass, but if you have genuine concerns don’t hesitate to articulate them. I notice that most political advisors are very assertive when advising. Sometimes I raise doubt about my own advice and thoughts. While this is quite uncommon, I think when you raise doubt about your own strategy it also signals maturity. Ironically, only insecure people think they are always right.
Be one of the boys
For lack of a better term: be one of the boys (or girls if you like). So stay for drinks and don’t be afraid to crack a joke every now and then. Talk to people in a position of power like you would with your neighbor or relative. Don’t be overly submissive and don’t apologize constantly and for everything. Be comfortable among the highest in rank and own it.