What is Charisma
Have you ever wondered why some people exert more influence than others, or why some people seem to be forgiven anything?
Charisma is more than just popularity and more than an ability to influence or lead. People have been successful without it, while many apparently charismatic people lead rocky lives, squandering opportunity and all that adoration. So what is real charisma?
Charisma is an ancient term, derived from the Greek word charis meaning 'divine gift of grace.' In this sense 'gift of grace' means a skill or ability given to a mortal by the gods for the benefit of the world. This gift was said to be given in order to fulfill an extraordinary destiny or to change the course of history in the Greek tradition of interfering and warring gods.
While in modern times we associate charisma with beauty and persuasiveness, there is a lot more to it than that. Some people demonstrate aspects of charisma either natural or learned, while some fake charisma creating a cult of personality to increase their celebrity or political power. But I would argue these do not represent true charisma, which is something much more profound.
In its original sense a charmed or charismatic person was said to have the following attributes:
A special gift or talent that sets them apart or makes them superhuman
An ability to inspire others through their passion for life or a higher purpose
Audacity or courage in the face of adversity - the ability to break through and lead by example
Grace and benevolence - to put their talent, calling or greater purpose ahead of their own needs and sacrifice their own comfort or well-being for others.
Attractiveness - though not necessarily just physical beauty but perhaps a beauty of the mind, spirit or emotions
Charisma should not be confused with manufactured popularity or a cult of personality that uses propaganda to create the false image of charisma in order to increase or maintain power. Hitler, Lennin and Mao were students of history who used the ancient symbols of charismatic leaders to gain charisma by association. In the studies below it is revealed that these symbols are deeply imbedded in our psyche and in the past could be used to manipulate individuals or an entire populace.
In my historical research it is clear that there is one attribute of charisma that helps us to tell the difference between the real thing and a fake.
That quality is grace or benevolence.
Of course propaganda or publicity can be used to create the impression that someone is charitable, kind, compassionate and giving, but it cannot be faked in person. People who pursue power, celebrity or leadership as an end in itself are not truly charismatic and will always put their own needs before others. They may however exhibit some of the characteristics of charisma, and these may lead them to success in their chosen field.
So can charisma be learned? It has been proven that the behaviours of charismatic people can be modeled and mimicked. We can become better communicators, we can develop our abilities or talents through hard work, we can do lots to make ourselves more attractive, but only life experience will determine whether we become more graceful, compassionate and wise individuals. This is the difference between leaders who seek to have power over others, and those who find themselves in a position of influence who change the world for the better, often at their own cost.
In another study, cited below, it is also shown that we can foster these characteristics in the workplace, building charismatic teams to drive innovation and profits. In the companies I have studied that use these team building systems there is a startling difference between teams with a greater purpose - charitable or community based, and those teams who were solely profit driven. Those with a purpose beyond money retained their highest performing team members and report a greater sense of personal satisfaction and team loyalty. This leads to ongoing business improvement, further innovation and talent retention, which all feed into the profit equation.
I think the important thing to recognise is that publicity and propaganda can only create a short term charismatic effect. These are the techniques of choice for the frauds and tyrants of the world. Individuals and businesses whose mission is to have a positive influence on the world need a different approach based on the attributes of charisma. So perhaps rather than trying to fake charisma we could instead be learning and emulating these characteristics.
So if you seek to have more influence and charisma ask yourself:
1. Do I have a talent or gift that others need?
2. Do I inspire others with my passion for life and my calling?
3. Do I stand up for others and what I believe in, or do I stand by while injustices are committed?
4. Am I compassionate and giving rather than just thinking about what's in it for me?
5. Are others attracted to me for more than my appearance - perhaps by my kindness, vivacity, intelligence, tenacity, courage or insight?
If you honestly answered YES to more than three of these characteristics it is likely you are perceived to have Charisma, but to be truly, charismatic you need all of these qualities.
If you are a business can you answer these questions in the affirmative? If you do then is your brand in alignment with this?
At the end of the day, alignment and authenticity are crucial. Faking charisma is a short term solution, as is using public relations to 'look' like a good corporate citizen, because in this age of ubiquitous information sooner or later the faker is found out.
Not every brand or individual will change the planet, but if we can connect to a deep passion or purpose perhaps we can advance one small area of our world for the better.
This is where mentoring can help. Work with someone to help you discover your purpose and then build your career or brand from the inside out, while learning the skills to become a center of positive influence.
Even if you don't wish to be more influential, understanding charisma and influence can ensure you don't get taken in by a fraud or led astray by an influential authority figure at home or at work.
When they were alive, each of them seemed to have some sort of aura to them, which many considered to be the gift of charisma.
In fact, the word charisma comes from Greek and means “divine gift of grace.” Traditionally, charisma is viewed as an inherent quality, you either have it or you don’t. But is this allure really just a reward to the chosen few?
Well, according to an article in Psychology Today, charisma is not in fact a magical or mysterious quality. While some seem to have a naturally charismatic personality, for the rest of us this trait can, in fact, be developed and trained. So, yes, if you are more like a Ben Stein than a Steve Jobs, there’s still hope for you my friend.
You might be wondering how charisma can help you as a manager. I’ll explain, but first a history lesson. Nearly a century ago, German sociologist Max Weber divided authority into three types: traditional, bureaucratic, and the charismatic. In his studies, Weber place a particularly strong focus on charismatic leaders and stated those type of leaders inspire loyalty and devotion of their followers.
Think about the examples at the beginning of this column– all those leaders displayed a personal magnetism that helped draw people to them and made people want to work with them. And they continue to inspire us to this day.
As a manager, you have to motivate people to take action, and to accomplish this is to present your strategy in a compelling way in order to inspire others.
Even if you don’t naturally possess a charismatic personality, there are small steps you can take to help maximize your success:
Increase your visibility.
Charismatic leaders tend to make themselves seen and heard. They make an effort to motivate people, whether by listening and responding to them, or by working alongside them. These leaders use enthusiasm to encourage people and get them moving toward important goals.
Think about ways you can leverage this strength throughout the organization, including coaching and being a role model for others. Keep the adage, “Actions speak louder than words” in mind. Actions should always be consistent with what you say you believe.
Learn to be persuasive.
Leaders with this characteristic present their strategy in a clear, easily understood manner. Try to negotiate through difficult situations and arrive at mutual agreements in a skillful way, and learn to negotiate and persuasively state your opinion. If that sounds easier said than done, take a class or workshop on mediation techniques to help you learn to negotiate win-win solutions to problems.
Magnetic leaders know what they want and how to get it in order to achieve goals. Using pressure to meet goals is an important tactical skill that should be used to communicate urgency, importance, and accountability. But keep in mind that this skill, if over-used or over-relied upon, can be an inhibitor to effectiveness, so learn when it is appropriate to push the boundaries. Consider that each person responds to different types of motivators, and learn to tailor your strategy to the needs of your team members.
Remember that charisma helps build confidence. And if you’re a confident leader, it will be passed on to your employees.
Measuring the Impact of Charisma
As it turns out, what counts most may not be what you say, but rather how you say it. There is a certain style of social interaction - one that our research group has identified quantitatively - that is highly predictive of success in a variety of situations.
One recent study in our research group focused on executives attending a 1-week intensive executive education class, where the final project in the class was pitching a business plan. We outfitted these executives with sociometers - specially designed digital badges to measure social signals such as tone of voice, proximity to others, energy level, and more. When the executives wore these sociometers at a mixer on the first evening of the week-long course, their social styles at the mixer were predictive of how well their teams' business plans would be perceived one week later at the end of the course.
What we found was that people with a certain social style - a kind of energetic but focused listener - acted as "charismatic connectors." The more charismatic connectors a given team had among its members, the better the team performance was judged during the business plan pitch. One important point to remember here is that it was not simply one charismatic individual, but rather a charismatic team, that pushed them toward success.
One reason these teams performed better may be simply that the members worked together better. We found very similar results in a separate study focused on brainstorming: the more of these energetic, focused listeners that were on a team, the better the quality of their brainstorming. In brainstorming sessions with teams whose social style was similar to these "charismatic connectors," the resulting quality of the talking was characterized by high levels of listening, more even-handed turn-taking, and high levels of engagement, trust, and cooperation.
These "charismatic connectors" are the ultimate team players - and the key to making a team successful. Their style is marked by a kind of energetic listening - but they are not the normal "extravert" or "life of the party" type. Rather, they appear to be interested and focused on everyone in the group and what they have to say. While this may all appear utterly obvious, the truth is that social science has had, up until now, very few ways to measure such behavior objectively and quantitatively and in real time. With new tools such as the sociometer, management science has the possibility of really becoming a science.
Dynamics Behind Magical Thinking and Charismatic Leadership Revealed
The study features three different experiments. The first tests whether ascriptions of mystique are associated with perceptions that the manager is visionary and will succeed in forecasting future business trends. The second examines whether managers who perform well in the absence of an obvious success-mechanism, such as extensive practice or technical skills, are more likely to be imputed mystique and judged more capable at tasks that require vision but not those that depend on administrative skill. In the third study, subjects judged two executives -- one succeeded through vision and the other succeeded through hard work. The results show that, compared to the hard-working executive, the visionary executive was judged to be more creative, curious, and charismatic.
The research results suggest that charisma is sometimes an illusion. While managers can establish a reputation as a transformational, charismatic leader in a number of valid ways, managers can also gain the mystique of charisma by veiling how they accomplish what they do, like a stage magician. Prof. Morris, who leads Columbia Business School's Program on Social Intelligence, elaborated on a point elucidated by this area of research, "Winning in business and political endeavors comes not only from performing well, but also from managing the interpretations that others make of your performance."
While the organization may benefit from the establishment of a new executive as a leader in the eyes of the followers, such theatrics can also be dangerous, as they limit the transfer of skills from this manager to others. Hence, the research findings suggest that firms should probe more deeply when recruiting executives on the basis of charisma.
Charismatic Leadership Can Be Measured, Learned, Study Finds
Levine said the large amount of academic literature on charismatic leadership never defined what it means to actually communicate charismatically.
"There's this illusion that we know what charismatic communication means, but in the research I reviewed, no one had ever really looked at that," he said.
Levine and his co-authors, Robert Muenchen of the UT Statistical Consulting Center and Abby Brooks of Georgia Southern University, surveyed university students and asked them to define charisma and pinpoint the behaviors of people they thought were charismatic.
"Everyone has a leadership capacity in something," Levine said. "But we found that if you want people to perceive you as charismatic, you need to display attributes such as empathy, good listening skills, eye contact, enthusiasm, self-confidence and skillful speaking," he said. Those are the attributes social scientists can measure to more fully understand charismatic communication.
Levine says the most surprising result was that the students felt that charisma was not just something you are born with, but something you can learn. "We asked the question 'What is charisma?' and their answers tended to start with 'the ability to…' Well, abilities are believed to be acquired attributes rather than inbred traits, so a lot of people believe that charisma can be learned."
Levine says the research makes the case for incorporating these concepts to better measure the level of charisma of individual leaders.