Leadership

The One Skill Most Entrepreneurs Need, But Often Overlook

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As children, we’re told the key to success is hard work. Show you’re the most capable person for the job, deliver results and the brass ring will be within your grasp. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the way the real business world operated? Unfortunately, in today’s super-competitive landscape, merit and qualifications simply aren’t enough.

The Center for Talent Innovation conducted a nationwide survey to examine the factors that were key to career success. The results formed the basis of economist and Center for Talent Innovation CEO Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s new book “Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success” (2014: Harper Business). In the book, she argues leaders have a natural authority called “gravitas.”

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While gravitas is a mysterious word – Hewlett herself says “you know it when you see it, but you can’t describe it” – having gravitas simply means when you speak, others take notice. Gravitas is important for anyone in a leadership position, but Hewlett argues it’s particularly vital to entrepreneurs who, more than ever, need to stand out as leaders of their companies not only to employees, but to clients, investors and customers. “Entrepreneurs are largely in the business of selling ideas and selling themselves,” she says.

To help uncover the secret to achieving gravitas, Hewlett broke down the several aspects that make up this trait.

1. Grace under fire. People want to follow those who seem in control. Being able to absorb disappointing news or bad information without flying off the handle instills trust in those around you. Hewlett says this piece is particularly important for entrepreneurs. “Running a small company or a startup is a roller-coaster at times, so conveying the fact that you will remain in charge and keep your cool is very important,” says Hewlett.

Related: Why Business Leaders Must Set a Personal Mission

2. Be decisive. The ability to show teeth and convey the fact that you’re good at making the tough decisions is a central component of gravitas. Unfortunately for female leaders, Hewlett says this is one area women tend to struggle with. “Females find showing teeth hard because if you come off too tough, you’re labelled a bitch,” she says.

3. Emotional Intelligence. Here’s some good news for women: emotional intelligence has climbed the list of traits that are valued in good leaders, and Hewlett says women tend to have more of it than men. Emotional intelligence is how you read a room, being a good listener, and having the ability to show empathy. “Being tone deaf and trying to sell the idea the same way doesn’t work. You have to understand who the audience is,” says Hewlett.

Women tend to have the upper hand when it comes to emotional intelligence. “They’re more aware of the vibes in the room. They often listen better and they’re more likely to factor in other people’s perspectives,” explains Hewlett. This skill is particularly vital for entrepreneurs who are often faced with the challenge of selling the room.  

Related: Leadership Lessons From Apple CEO Tim Cook