GWPR EMPOWER Masterclass Session five – Lead with Gravitas, with Antoinette Dale Henderson

Published 8th Oct 2022

Summary of the session by Amanda Fox-Pryke, Deputy Managing Director, Performance Communications and GWPR Empower programme mentee

Antoinette D Henderson quote

Leading with gravitas is a crucial skill in any leadership role.

That’s a strong statement, but what is, and how do we recognise gravitas? Have you ever thought in detail about what it means to have gravitas, or what someone who seems to have gravitas actually does? I’d never thought about it in too much detail, I just know when I meet someone who has gravitas, I feel drawn to them and my energy zones into theirs… but why? What is it that they do to outwardly demonstrate this effect?

Our latest GWPR #Empower session with Antoinette Dale Henderson was an eye-opening session as it allowed us as a group to review ourselves, to acknowledge our own internal pillars of self-awareness, expertise and authenticity – and then our external-self, through looking at our own presence, connections and how we project ourselves to the outside world.

Before opening the session, Antoinette addressed the fact that in the PR industry there are more women in the field, however, staggeringly, the majority of the top roles are occupied by men. Why is this? She talked about her own struggles in life as a parent of two and holding down a career, to which I can certainly relate. But why do women seem to push up against a glass ceiling when it comes to senior leadership roles. This ceiling prevents many from getting those top positions and results in more often than not, our voice not getting heard in the right places.

And the question was asked…. Have you ever been in that situation where your voice hasn’t been heard, when you can’t break through and past the boundary which is right in front of you.

In that moment we all connected and had locations and time zones allowed, it would have been fantastic for us all to be in one room together to be able to sympathise, connect and support each other, in the knowledge that we have all gone through the same thing. This struggle is real – and the facts unfortunately show this.

I’m grateful to be part of this group for this very reason. This session demonstrated ‘gravity’, meaning it grounded me, it gave me ‘vita’; meaning life energy. It reminded me that we are always growing and learning and that nothing is impossible if we put our minds to it. We just have to focus on our strengths, what we have, what we are good at and not do (what sometimes the majority of us will do) which is look at what you are not so good at, focussing on the things you need to improve, rather than your strengths. This ultimately brings your confidence down.

Following the group practice session we focused on the diamond analogy, an idea that the diamond can always shine, it just sometimes needs some polishing. A cliché maybe, but highly relevant.
We reviewed how to look at and focus on improving our projection – how we as individuals project out into the world. An example of this is when someone asks us ‘how are you today?’, How would we answer? Would you say, “Fine thanks, busy day and a bit stressful, but it is all going well. And you?”….
Remember, this is an easy opportunity to shine and one I think is sometimes easily overlooked. An answer such as the above is going to tell your audience nothing and chances are it won’t leave a lasting impression, nor provide them with any information which could create an interesting dialogue which you can lead. This is an example of a moment we can ‘project’ first– and showcase our gravitas. Don’t underestimate how important and critical that first moment is.

Antoinette reminded us of this and reinforced the importance of using this opportunity to showcase ourselves in an authentic way. She talked us through her OPRAHS model.

One thing that was evident was that Antoinette certainly had gravitas. We were glued to the screen, captivated on her every word and the session could have continued for several more hours.
Gravitas. It is a vital quality that talented employees need to have if they want to move up the career ladder and maintain their position at the top. People with gravitas lead better, present better, communicate better and network better.

This struggle is real for women in this industry, and it comes down to the fact that us (women) need to believe in ourselves more, work as much on our soft skills as we do on our technical skills to create the best version of ourselves. I have no doubt it can be done when there is a raft of incredibly talented and inspirational women out there like everyone on this GWPR EMPOWER programme, from mentors to mentees and incredible speakers.

Annette has published two highly successful books on this topic:
Leading with Gravitas
Power Up: The Smart Woman’s Guide to unleashing her potential