Improve Your Gravitas: The Essential Guide for Finance Leaders

A large number of finance leaders highlight the need to improve their gravitas and perception. Many feel that they are not always properly listened to during key discussions and that most people think of them as simply being the numbers person. This restricts your ability to influence the wider business agenda and to contribute towards decision-making. But it doesn’t have to be this way – with the right approach and mindset, you can quickly elevate your status in key meetings and become a critical voice in the board room. This guide provides essential advice for finance leaders to help you become a respected leader in your organization.
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Do you ever find yourself trying to make your point but no one seems to be listening? Have you felt underappreciated for the work you do and that your voice is not properly heard during meetings? How do others perceive you – as a critical thinker across all areas of the business, or simply as the numbers person?

The majority of finance leaders have encountered situations where they feel that their voice is not heard and where other people fail to value the range of perspectives that they can offer in addition to simply knowing the numbers. In fact, 23% of finance leaders consider this to be one of their top three biggest challenges.

But don’t worry, these are common struggles for finance leaders. With a few simple changes and adjustments in your approach, you can quickly improve your gravitas and perception. In this guide, we’ll explore some key tips and strategies to help you become a more respected leader in your company.

Table of Contents

Signs that you are lacking gravitas

Before we look at the advice and techniques which finance leaders can use to improve their gravitas, let’s take a look at some of the common signs that you may be lacking gravitas.

Do you relate to any of these thoughts?

  • “I often feel frustrated and ignored in meetings, despite having put a lot of thought into what I want to say”
  • “I don’t always feel that my opinion is being taken seriously”

  • “I lack the confidence to stand up for myself when challenged or questioned by senior leadership team members”

  • “My ideas are often overlooked or ignored within the board room”

  • “I don’t always get a chance to contribute to conversations, even when I feel like I have something valuable to say”

  • “I struggle to be heard and respected in business discussions, particularly commercial or strategic conversations”

You may also:

  • Not address the room when speaking, but instead speak to one person specifically
  • Poorly defend your own ideas or contradict yourself

  • Fail to explain why a particular decision is necessary and how it fits into the bigger picture

  • Be overly technical in order to make your point

  • Not actively engage with those around you, or fail to demonstrate understanding of the wider context

  • Have difficulty speaking up in meetings

  • Find it hard to challenge the status quo

  • Avoid taking risks or challenging other people’s views

  • Feel that your ideas are not taken seriously

When you lack gravitas, these behaviors can severely limit your ability to influence decisions and shape the business agenda. This in turn can lead to frustration and a sense of disconnection in the workplace, which may have a serious impact on your job satisfaction and career progression.

The root cause: why are so many finance leaders lacking gravitas?

There are many reasons why finance leaders feel that they are lacking gravitas. This is particularly common in first time CFO roles where the finance leader is one of the least experienced in the board room and is expected to add significant value across the business and provide essential insights to the wider company.


Lack of confidence

Imposter Syndrome: Many finance leaders struggle with a lack of confidence, often due to their own self-doubt or fear of making mistakes. This can cause them to hesitate before speaking in meetings and fail to take ownership of any decisions.

Lack of belief: A lack of belief in their own abilities and the value that they can bring to conversations can also be a contributing factor. This often leads to them failing to express their ideas or hold back on making critical decisions, even when they know they are right.

Feeling intimidated: Finance leaders may feel intimidated in board rooms where they are surrounded by senior executives with more experience and a higher degree of clout. This feeling can be compounded if the finance leader is inexperienced or new to the role.

Poor presentation skills

Weak communication: When you are not able to succinctly convey an idea or perspective, it can lead to a lack of understanding and respect for your contributions.

Feeling nervous: If you’re feeling nervous or overthinking before speaking, it can limit your ability to express your ideas clearly and effectively.

Lack of impact: Finance leaders may lack the methodology, experience or knowledge needed to effectively communicate their thoughts in a meeting or boardroom environment.

Numbers only reputation

Unhelpful perception: The “numbers only” reputation of finance professionals means that contributing to non-financial conversations may be difficult or intimidating. It is important for finance leaders to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and how best to use these in different settings.

Inability to think strategically: This is often caused by being removed from the day-to-day operations and not having a broad understanding of the wider business environment. It can be difficult for finance leaders to make informed decisions if they are too focused on specific financial metrics or processes.

Lack of commercial awareness: By not having enough knowledge of the marketplace and wider business, finance leaders will likely make unhelpful suggestions and miss the opportunity to contribute meaningful insight into discussions and decisions.

Technical focus

Confusing people: Finance leaders can become overly focused on the technical aspects of their role, such as crunching numbers or running analysis. This often confuses people in meetings and does not provide much value to non-finance professionals

Narrow mindset: If you are overly focused on the technical side of your job, you can miss the larger context and implications of decisions. You may fail to connect the dots, leading to unhelpful suggestions and causing you to miss opportunities to provide valuable advice or insights that could have a positive impact on the business.

Alienation: Too much technical analysis, jargon and unique perspectives, may alienate you from key colleagues who view you as a numbers only person, rather than someone who can see the big picture and contribute towards business decision making.

Not taking responsibility for outcomes

Lack of clarity on responsibilities: Finance leaders may not be aware of their responsibilities or how their work contributes to the success of the business. This can lead them to hold back on speaking up and making decisions as they are uncertain if it is within their remit or not.

Fear of failure: Fear of failure can make finance leaders hesitant to take ownership of decisions even when they have the facts and analysis to back up their points. This often results in them not speaking up or being unwilling to offer an opinion, which can be viewed as lack of gravitas.

Lack of ownership: Without taking ownership of decisions, finance leaders will be unable to build credibility and demonstrate their value as a leader. This can lead to missed opportunities for the business, as well as decreased respect from colleagues and peers.


Methods to improve gravitas

Here are some of the many ways in which finance leaders can improve their gravitas:

Prioritize communication

Take the time to learn how to communicate effectively and succinctly. This will ensure that your ideas and perspectives are heard and understood by everyone in the room. When presenting an opinion, be sure to provide the facts and analysis that support it. Frame your arguments in a way that is easy for non-financial professionals to understand.

Be clear on what you want to say before entering a meeting, so that you can communicate your point with clarity and conviction. It may also help to role-play these conversations with a colleague before you enter the meeting, as it will give you an opportunity to practice your communication techniques and fine-tune them.

Be mindful of how you are communicating. Keep your language clear and concise by avoiding using complex words or technical jargon that may confuse non-finance professionals. Also, be aware of body language, such as eye contact and confident posture, which can help you convey confidence in your point of view.

Is my message clear and concise? Am I using language that everyone can understand? Am I conveying confidence in my point of view?

Take ownership

Be proactive and take ownership of decisions that are within your remit, even if the outcome is uncertain. Taking responsibility for outcomes will demonstrate to colleagues and peers that you have the gravitas necessary to lead.

Be willing to make a call when no one else will, but also be sure to explain your rationale so that people understand why you made the decision. This will build credibility and demonstrate that you are comfortable making decisions based on facts and analysis.

Finally, be open to feedback from colleagues and peers regarding decisions that have been made. This will demonstrate that you are open to learning and improving, which is crucial for building gravitas.

Build resilience

Finance leaders must be resilient to effectively lead in their roles. This means being able to handle criticism and failure without taking it personally, as well as having the ability to stay focused and motivated despite setbacks or obstacles.

Resilience can be developed through practice and by cultivating a strong sense of self-confidence. Be sure to take time to recognize your successes and celebrate the wins, no matter how big or small.

It’s also important to remember that failure is part of the learning process, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on. This will show colleagues and peers that you are resilient enough to handle the pressures of leadership.

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Develop an entrepreneurial mindset

Finance leaders must have an entrepreneurial mindset if they are to be effective at their jobs. They need to think beyond the numbers and understand how their work contributes to the success of the business.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset means being open to new ideas and willing to take risks in order to create value for the business. It means looking beyond just the financials and considering how a decision will affect all stakeholders, from customers to employees.

Embrace opportunities to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions. This will help to position you as a leader who can think strategically and see the big picture rather than just focusing on the numbers. Own your decisions by taking responsibility for outcomes and being prepared to discuss any failure or success that arises from decisions made in the boardroom.

Balance data with context

Having an in-depth understanding of the financials is important for a finance leader, but they must also be able to explain these numbers in a way that makes sense to non-financial professionals. This means being able to put the figures into context and communicate their meaning and implications clearly.

Being able to articulate the implications of the financial figures for the wider business and market is a key part of having gravitas. Make sure you have an up-to-date understanding of the industry, as well as any changes in regulations or trends that could impact your decisions.

Be prepared to answer questions and explain your decisions in ways that non-financial people can understand. This will demonstrate that you have a deep understanding of the figures, as well as an appreciation for the wider context in which the business operates, which will differentiate you from others in the board room.

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Improve your commercial awareness

Finance leaders should also be aware of industry trends and try to identify opportunities that may not be immediately obvious. This requires you to think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions that may not have been considered before.

Be sure to stay informed on the latest developments in your industry, as well as any changes in regulations or trends that could impact your decisions. This will ensure that you are always prepared for anything that may come your way and demonstrate a deep understanding of the business environment.

Learning from experts in other industries is also beneficial for improving commercial awareness. Read articles and attend conferences to learn about different approaches and strategies for success, as well as gaining a better understanding of the competition. This will help you contribute more towards strategic conversations.

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Build trusted relationships

Finance leaders should be adept at building strong working relationships with their colleagues and peers. Take the time to build relationships with colleagues from all departments and understand their perspectives, goals and challenges. This means being respectful of other people’s opinions, but also being open and honest about your own views.

Be sure to show genuine interest in other people’s ideas and opinions, as well as taking the time to explain your own decisions. This will help you to build trust with colleagues and peers, which is essential for leading effectively.

It’s also important to remember that communication is a two-way street. Make sure you are actively listening to what others have to say and engaging in meaningful conversations. Put yourself in others’ shoes and try to understand how your decisions will impact them, both financially and personally. This will show that you value their input and help build strong, collaborative relationships.

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Grow your confidence

Your starting point should be to determine what gravitas really means to you. Most people think of words such as confidence, influence and authority. In addition to possessing personal power, commanding respect and having great communication or networking skills. Identify your role models and give yourself time to practice the impact you would like to make.

Gravitas is associated with ideas of weight, influence, or authority, and also sobriety and seriousness. It can be a combination of good judgment, authority, personal power, and the ability to speak the truth and command respect. Physical attributes such as height, attractiveness, and tone and volume of voice can lend gravitas to the way people carry themselves or make themselves present.

Roles can often provide gravitas, for example being the CFO, Finance Director, Vice President of Finance, or Head of Finance. However, job titles alone are not enough to maximize gravitas as you need to combine it with the way that you come across.

When it comes to leading with gravitas, confidence is key. Crises typically reveal those people who have strong gravitas and expose those who lack it. When you make a decision, be sure to back it up with evidence where possible, or with well considered logic, to show your colleagues that you are confident in its accuracy. This can help build trust in your judgement and inspire others to follow your lead.

Successful financial leaders recognize that no one can do it all alone. Seeking help when faced with challenging situations is a sign of strength, not weakness. Asking for advice and guidance is the only way to ensure success when delivering such a high demanding role.

Increase your presence

People with high levels of gravitas have strong presence in the room, and command the authority and respect of others. Here are six things you can do to feel and therefore act with more gravitas and presence:

  1. Body language: This is the largest element of impact and requires finance leaders to properly prepare through breathing exercises, physical activity and reflecting on the key points that you need to communicate with clarity. You need to uplift yourself to also uplift others by generating enthusiasm and passion and maintaining a positive mental attitude, leading to a stronger and healthier body which in turn makes you look and feel good. Your mind and body are linked, causing your thoughts to generate behaviours that show up in your body language. Many people suffer from thinking negative thoughts such as: “I am not good enough”; “I am not equal”; and “Others know more than me”. These thoughts cause many people to be afraid of voicing your opinions, leading you to shrink back, which in turn will suppress your personality. Remember that your body language and positioning when interacting online is as important as how you physically walk into a room.
  2. Eyes: It is essential to maintain good eye contact during interactions with other people. In group situations, you should maintain eye contact with people around the room and give attention to everybody within the meeting. In an online scenario, you need to be looking at the screen when speaking or listening to people. You can take opportunities to relax your eyes during certain parts of a meeting. For example, in between speakers, during any moments of reflections and brainstorming sessions.
  3. Voice: Use your voice wisely throughout your interactions. You must align your voice with what you say. Remember, the way that you say something is even more important than what you actually say. Speak with a positive expression and show a strong level of interest in what other people are saying. Avoid letting nerves take over as these significantly reduce your gravitas and typically cause you to speak too much.
  4. Breathing: Deep breathing allows you to remain centered, calm and in control. To help calm down your nervous system, push your big toe into the ground to trigger a deep stomach breath. It is also vital to pause during your speaking. People often feel under pressure to give the right reply to a question immediately. However, people with strong levels of gravitas and confidence typically feel much more comfortable pausing first. This gives yourself time to think about the answer and, if necessary, say “I’ll come back to you”. Nobody instantly knows the answer to everything off the top of their head. In addition, following up with somebody after a meeting gives you an opportunity to develop more rapport with them and to show that you are keen to help them.
  5. Listening: There is a reason why you have one mouth and two ears. Communicate with this 2:1 ratio by using your ears twice as much as your mouth. Someone who listens attentively keeps a comfortable level of eye contact and has an open and relaxed but alert pose. Deep listening allows you to really understand what people are trying to tell you and to exert influence based upon knowing their actual mindset.
  6. Choice of vocabulary: Your choice of vocabulary has a huge impact in people’s ability to understand your messages and to take your seriously. Use short sentences consisting of simple well-known words. However, remember that your presentation and vocal behaviour speak louder than words.

Each of these six items will have a big impact on your presence amongst other people, which in turn will impact on your gravitas and their overall perception of you.

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Closing thoughts

By following these steps finance leaders can improve their gravitas, build credibility and demonstrate their value as a leader in the boardroom. With improved gravitas, finance leaders will not only be able to increase their influence but also provide meaningful insights into conversations which will help the business move forward.

Take a few minutes to think about who your role models are. Consider a few people you have looked up to who have the gravitas that you would like. As yourself the following questions:

  • How do they show up?
  • What attributes do they consistently present?
  • Who is listened to the most and why?

There is no “one size fits all” approach to improving your gravitas, but with practice and dedication you can become the leader that everybody turns to for advice. Remember, it is not about changing yourself. You are trying to identify and leverage from your role models’ biggest attributes to help you become the best version of yourself. Start small, start today and make a positive difference. Get in touch.

Professional Mentoring and Coaching​

Mentoring and coaching can help finance leaders plan ahead confidently with the expert guidance of someone who’s been there before and is committed to seeing you succeed. We offer complimentary chemistry calls so that you can get to know us better and see if our mentoring style is a good fit for your needs. During this call, we will discuss your challenges and goals, and help you determine the best course of action moving forward.​

The CFO Programme​

Our CFO Programme is designed for passionate finance leaders who are keen to develop a well-respected finance function that provides vital support, influence and value creation across your business. This six-month virtual programme is led by professional mentors who have strong CFO experience and is delivered within cohorts comprising 5-6 finance leaders, alongside individual mentoring.​

The GrowCFO Competency Framework​

Use The GrowCFO Competency Framework to assess your and your team’s hard and soft skills. This first of its kind assessment tool will help individuals benchmark themselves against your finance leader peer group across nine CFO competencies and 45 skill sets.​

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