What exactly is ‘Charisma’, this most elusive and enigmatic of attributes, and can its secrets be taught?
Outside (though clearly including) the showbiz world of the luvvies, the term ‘charismatic’ is used to describe a person who has an exceptional ability to engage others; someone whose company you seek, whose presence you find hard to resist. Crucially, a charismatic leader is someone who manifestly inspires, motivates and sometimes mesmerizes the people they lead: Bill Clinton, Jack Welch, Nicola Horlick, Tony Robbins, Meg Whitman, Anita Roddick, Jeff Skilling, Clara Furse and Tom Peters come easily to mind. To the effective leader, charisma is currency. In fact, anyone who depends on making an exceptional impression on others for their livelihood should consider the question of charisma.
We are all intrinsically and fundamentally social animals, and in the business world it has been proved time and again that successful human relationships are at the core of successful businesses. Most of us enjoy the company of others, but we enjoy the company of charismatic people even more because we simply feel good in their presence. It is also true that charismatic individuals particularly enjoy social interaction and view each situation as a new opportunity to express and share their charisma. For them, communicating is a truly pleasurable and rewarding activity. Prime examples of this type of individual are professional entertainers whose lifeblood is the sound of their audience’s joyful applause of appreciation.
It is rational to suppose that if we all had the skills and therefore the confidence to express our personal presence at a charismatic level our prime motivation in the world would surely be to communicate and positively connect with as many people as possible. In terms of business practice, this would translate into a desire to successfully engage with customers and colleagues alike. This makes establishing human contact and mutual rapport one of the prime movers in terms of the call to action in the work place.
Why? Because if we achieve positive feedback and recognition for doing something well, the more we want to do it. And if genuine and effective contact is made with a potential customer or client, the possibilities for future business are manifold. Sounds reasonable, but how realistic is it to assume we can all develop more charisma?
Historically, charisma has been regarded as something you can’t be taught – you simply have it or you don’t. Even the eminent sociologist Max Webber, who thought the subject worthy of a rigorous study, described charisma as: ‘A certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.’ I’m sorry, Max, could you repeat that? Fortunately things have changed since old Max stroked his wise bearded chin and ruminated on the subject. We now understand a lot more about charisma and in fact serious attempts have been made to isolate and quantify behavioral measures for it – thereby allowing the possibility of learnable elements.
Charisma is not ‘Charm’
A helpful way of understanding charisma is to begin by distinguishing it from what it is not; and what it is not is ‘charm’. Charm, as distinct from charisma, is that which merely seduces, pacifies, assures and unintentionally promotes complacency. Those who possess charisma on the other hand, inspire, enliven, excite, delight and promote action.
Interestingly, this is not to deny we can sometimes find someone charismatic and yet still dislike them whereas it is much harder to dislike a charmer. ‘Charming’ individuals have an appeal we sometimes find irritatingly pleasant but are people we can also easily live without.
The charismatic personality conveys wisdom, beauty, sex and power, whereas the charmer merely exudes, sensuality, wit and self-assurance. But here is the defining fact: once the charmer has left the room they take with them their effect; not so with the charismatic individual. After they have gone they create an emotional vacuum which leaves others longing to be back in their company as soon as possible. In other words their effect is long lasting. Charm may win over a table full of dinner guests but only charisma can hold the attention of a football stadium full of strangers.
The question at the beginning of this article was, what is charisma and can it be taught?
The answer is: Charisma is the by-product of the intelligent transmission of intense, concentrated personal energy embodied and expressed in the four dimensions of human behaviour- physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Anyone can be taught techniques to develop the capacity to increase and manage their personal energy to increase their personal impact when communicating.