Maya Angelou

A wax figure of Maya Angelou seen on display at Madame Tussauds on December 6, 2013 in New York City.

I’ve been hearing the word “gravitas” a lot lately. Gravitas – poise under pressure, strength of character, self-esteem, confidence. It’s described as hard to define but visible to the naked eye. And, there’s debate about whether it can be learned or if it’s just part of the package – (or not).

Often I work with people to build what’s called in my world “executive presence.” And according to author Sylvia Ann Hewlett and research by the Center for Talent Innovation, the biggest contributor to mastering executive presence is developing gravitas.

In my experience, a key part of the equation is that word confidence. Yet we’ve all known people whose seeming over-confidence was a turn-off. So what’s the relationship between presence  (executive or otherwise) and confidence?

Confidence might be a prerequisite for external presence, the thing that attracts and influences others. Is that surprising? Let’s look at what destroys our ability to show up, focus on the matter at hand, listen and respond.

  • We are not present when we worry. Worry is almost always a condition of projecting the past onto the future, or simply making up stories of what the future might hold. Presence means we embody “now,” confident that the past has passed, and the future holds promise – within our creative control.
  • We are not externally present when we’re feeling negative emotions. People who have strong external presence can fluidly move from an emotional state to an objective state. The stamina to step outside and look in surely requires the confidence to trust what we might see.
  • We are not present when we are focused solely on ourselves, unless we happen to be alone and without any other inputs. It takes confidence to face whatever inputs show up.

In a post on The Spirited Woman, Pam Hale wrote a beautiful tribute to Maya Angelou. This woman embodied the word gravitas.

Can we learn to muster more of it? Oh yes, if Angelou could, we simply must.

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!



Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

I’m embarking on a dangerous project. I am seeking the source of confidence in successful people’s lives, and in doing so I am breaking open a puzzle that I began to try to solve some ten years ago. My question then was (and still is now) – what is the interchange between confidence, commitment and results? Which comes first, a commitment so ardent to some outcome that, when achieved, builds my confidence for the next? Or does a smooth, confident knowing that what I intend must come to be by virtue of sheer consciousness, precede all other states of being? I’m betting on the latter.

It’s a dangerous mission because even Wikipedia seems to warn of the fine line confidence walks:

Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself. Arrogance or hubris in this comparison, is having unmerited confidence—believing something or someone is capable or correct when they are not. Overconfidence or presumptuousness is excessive belief in someone (or something) succeeding, without any regard for failure. Confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as those without it may fail or not try because they lack it and those with it may succeed because they have it rather than because of an innate ability.

Consider your current heart’s desire, the one that’s real. On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you? Now, using the same scale, how confident are you?

If your commitment is 10 and your confidence is, say, 7, then I’ll suggest you have a 70% chance of success. If on the other hand, your confidence is a 10 (really a 10), I’m betting on you.

Right now, it’s all educated hypothesis. From my own experiences and my observation of others, I know that a deep, clear, settled knowing (confidence) can move mountains. Yesterday I met a woman who rejected her doctor’s conventional advice and risked her life in order to be true to what she knew, confidently, was the best course of treatment for a grave disease. Now, ten years later and fully healed, she knows it was her confidence in the right decision for her that enabled the result, vs. some “fight” or struggle for victory.

Stay tuned for the stories. And join me if you wish, as I embark on this journey of discovery.

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Never Mind That

by Andrea Chilcote

Never Mind ThatLet’s do a mental exercise. Imagine a stranger approaches you, looks you in the eye and states, boldly, “I don’t like you!”

What’s your immediate reaction? What do you say in response? Now, imagine the same thing only this time it’s someone you know — a neighbor say, or a co-worker. Does it feel different when it’s an acquaintance? Is your response different?

I have always considered myself impervious to others’ views of me. Being liked or accepted is just not one of my core needs.

So I was surprised by my reaction to an exercise I participated in this past weekend. The exercise was part of a workshop led by Ann Albers. Ann demonstrated by walking up to an unassuming participant. “I don’t like you!” she declared. The woman cowered a bit and softly replied “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Ann coached. “Just say ‘that’s okay,’ with confidence, and walk away.”

Easy, right? Well, I thought it would be easy for me.

We were instructed to practice with other attendees. The first person who said “I don’t like you” to me was met with my response: “I don’t like you either!”

Wow. An image of my beloved Malamute, Whisper, came to mind. When an aggressive dog approaches Whisper, she takes an even more aggressive stance and growls back ferociously. “Never mind that,” I’ve been telling her, for nearly nine years.

It’s rare that a person says “I don’t like you” out loud. The messages are usually more subtle, but we can sense and feel them. And we make assumptions about people’s feelings toward us based on behaviors we interpret as lack of acceptance. Whisper has reacted many times to a dog’s personality-driven exuberance as if it was aggression directed at her. And because she is a mirror for me, I’m pretty certain I have too.

The lesson of the workshop was, of course, to remain unaffected by the opinions of others. Never mind them. Before Saturday, I would have told you that I was uninfluenced. But I am affected, making up a story of why and how others could come to the conclusion that they don’t like me, and in doing so concluding that they too are unlikeable.

“That’s okay. Never mind that.” What peaceful and disarming responses these are, whether spoken or not. Consider these phrases in relation to self-acceptance. In this context, we’re really saying, “I’m okay” – okay with myself, in full acceptance of my value and worth. We’re saying “never mind” the opinions of others. There’s neither a need to take on their negativity nor “fight to prove I’m right” in the words of music legend Pete Townshend.

Wars are raged between countries and within communities and families because we don’t agree. People make decisions every day to please others and in doing so forego their own needs, purpose and values – often disappointing the very ones they were trying to please.

I do like you. But pretend for a moment that I don’t, and just never mind.

I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven
Pete Townshend
“Baba O’Riley”


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger.