Arjun from the sales division of an FMCG company shone in the spotlight, impressing everyone with his flashy presentations and quick decisions. Heads turned when he walked into meetings at work, impeccably dressed and winning everyone over with his gift of the gab. However, beneath the surface, inconsistency erorded trust.
In sharp contrast was Sneha. Humble, sincere and dedicated. Her quiet strength and principled decisions inspired trust. Her humility and unwavering commitment left a lasting impact on her sales-support team.
Arjun and Sneha represent two contrasting approaches that often come to the forefront at the workplace. The former was all about performative confidence and the latter all about authentic gravitas.
While both can propel individuals into positions of authority, they are fundamentally distinct in their reliance on external validation, communication style and long-term consequences.
Over time, Arjun’s popularity and performative confidence waned, while Sneha’s gravitas led to enduring success. ‘Gravitas’ means seriousness and importance of manner, such as the qualities seen in Sneha.
Employees such as Arjun, possessing performative confidence, thrive on external validation. They require approval and admiration from others to fuel their self-esteem. They are loud and even ostentatious in their communication. In their endeavour to produce immediate impact, they rely on grandiose speeches and charismatic gestures. However, this reliance on external affirmation can become a precarious foundation for leadership.
Leaders with authentic gravitas do not seek constant validation from others as their authentic gravitas is rooted in inner strength and humility. They possess a quiet confidence that emanates from their self-awareness and self-assurance. This internal strength allows them to remain calm and composed even in the face of challenges, earning the trust and respect of their teams.
Performative confidence often leads to inconsistency in leadership. When leaders focus on flashy communication and external validation, they may struggle to maintain a consistent leadership style and decision-making process. This inconsistency can breed scepticism among team members, eroding trust over time.
“Performative confidence can yield quick results and applause. However, authentic gravitas stems from wisdom, humility and resilience”
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced materials business, Aditya Birla Group
In contrast, authentic gravitas fosters sustainability and trust-building. Leaders who embody this quality tend to make decisions based on values and principles rather than seeking short-term popularity. Their consistent behaviour and genuine humility build trust within their teams, promoting long-term stability and cohesion.
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced materials business, Aditya Birla Group, shares, “Performative confidence can yield quick results and applause. However, authentic gravitas stems from wisdom, humility and resilience.”
According to him, in many organisations, the balance between these two factors matters greatly. External validation and flashy communication are enticing, but authentic gravitas holds long-term value. It’s like a performance versus steady contribution debate. While the performance may garner attention, consistent, day-to-day excellence matters more.
Benefits of cultivating authentic gravitas
Effective decision-making: Leaders with authentic gravitas make decisions based on their core values and principles rather than succumbing to external pressures. This approach leads to more thoughtful, ethical and sustainable decision-making, which benefits both the organisation and its stakeholders.
Building trust: Authentic leaders inspire trust through their consistent behaviour and genuine humility. Team members feel secure and valued, leading to stronger interpersonal relationships and increased employee engagement.
Resilience: Authentic gravitas helps leaders remain resilient in the face of adversity. They are less affected by external criticism or setbacks and are more likely to persevere through challenging times.
Long-term success: While performative confidence may yield short-term gains, authentic gravitas paves the way for long-term success. It establishes a solid foundation for leadership that endures over time.
Amit Sharma, senior HR professional and former HR head of a large automobile company, says that both performative confidence and authentic gravitas play crucial roles in a professional’s growth and productivity in the workplace. He rightly points out, “They are not opposing forces but rather complementary aspects. When balanced effectively, they can lead to a successful career and a valuable presence within an organisation.”
“Authentic gravitas forms the core of one’s professional identity. It encompasses inner strength, humility and a deep reservoir of knowledge and expertise. This essential inner foundation lends credibility to what an individual says and does”
Amit Sharma, senior HR professional and former HR head of a large automobile company
He goes on to add, “Authentic gravitas forms the core of one’s professional identity. It encompasses inner strength, humility and a deep reservoir of knowledge and expertise. This essential inner foundation lends credibility to what an individual says and does. Without genuine knowledge and the ability to back it up, external validation and flashy communication lose their substance over time.”
While authentic grativas provides depth, performative confidence, which involves effective external communication and marketing of one’s ideas and skills, is equally significant. It ensures effective communication. The two approaches complement each other in a competitive world, making the message both heard and respected.
Some employees, such as Sneha may consistently meet targets but lack flashy communication skills, while some others, such as Arjun, may excel at marketing themselves but struggle to achieve. In the long run, performance typically outweighs the ability to impress. That explains how Arjun’s popularity waned and Sneha earned trust in the earlier example.
“Consider a foundation’s work across multiple countries,” suggests Mishra trying to explain with a real-life example. “While it can boast about its accomplishments, it prefers to humbly empower others to succeed. This approach, with authenticity and simplicity, yields greater results,” enunciates Mishra.
A person displaying performative confidence is likely to handle feedback in a different manner. They might tend to respond to feedback with a focus on appearance rather than genuine improvement. In sectors like banking and hospitality, where feedback from stakeholders and employees often points out performance gaps, someone with performative confidence might prioritise showcasing their competence and ignoring the feedback’s potential for sincere, meaningful change.
In the corporate world, it is important to be able to distinguish between performative confidence and authentic gravitas. While leaders exuding performative confidence may offer immediate visibility, they often lack the sustainability and trust-building qualities associated with authentic gravitas. They need to, therefore, grow beyond performative confidence and develop real gravitas. Leaders who cultivate inner strength, humility and a commitment to ethical decision-making can foster enduring success and make a lasting positive impact on their organisations and teams. Simply put, it is not the flashiness of communication or external validation that ultimately defines leadership but the depth of character and authenticity that leaders bring to their roles.