Posts Tagged ‘charisma’

Team-building-prototype / hikingartist / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A friend and I were having a conversation about leadership while talking about how a new, grassroots organization would survive and thrive. We were specifically discussing whether this organization needs a charismatic leader to instill enthusiasm and energy within current members, as well as increase membership of community activists.

Our conversation broadened to discuss whether charisma is the secret ingredient in the leadership recipe. Is there a formula or algorithm to determine the amount of charisma needed to be a leader? Maybe eye of newt, wing of bat, and a tablespoon of charisma.

We inherently react positively to someone who has charm or personal magnetism – who smiles and has a positive attitude and energy, or a twinkle in the eyes. But charisma is more than charm. Charisma is a relationship skill (Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Why You Need Charisma, HBR Blog Network, September 11, 2012).

There is no one type of charisma [Got Charisma?], like effective leadership, charisma is situational. In this organization, it seems that the organization needs charisma (relationship building) so that “all feel that they are special and will have their particular needs met, yet also feeling that they are all in it together, drawing strength from association.” [Kanter]

Rather than searching for the one charismatic leader, I think that the organization should focus on the desired outcome as quoted from Kanter above. Charisma is the eye of the beholder, it is what one attributes to another. A charismatic leader for one organization may not be effective for another organization. Ask a Republican if Clinton has charisma, or a Democrat if George W. Bush has charisma.

There is an opportunity for the organization to use the strengths of its members. Perhaps there’s a relationship builder among the members who can step up to that role to raise and maintain enthusiasm and energy.

While enthusiasm and energy are key ingredients in the formation of an organization, as well as during its maintenance to a lesser extent, in order for the organization to be sustainable, its members need to internalize the vision, have a commitment to the mission, and feel as a significant, integral part of the team.

In addition to motivating members, the organization needs other leadership functions. One way to look at the organization’s leadership needs is from the view of eight leadership archetypes presented by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries in The Eight Archetypes of Leadership in the HBR Blog Network, December 18, 2013.

  1. Strategist – provides vision, strategic direction and outside-the-box thinking to create new organization forms and generate future growth.
  2. Change-catalyst – re-engineers and creates new organizational “blueprints.”
  3. Transactor – identifies and tackles new opportunities, thrives on negotiations.
  4. Builder – creates something new and has the talent and determination to make it come true.
  5. Innovator – focuses on the new and solves extremely difficult problems.
  6. Processor – sets up structures and systems needed to support an organization’s objectives.
  7. Coach – gets the best out of people, creates high performance cultures.
  8. Communicator – great influencer, has considerable impact on the surroundings.

While working on its programs, the organization could work on leadership development of its members using their strengths to meet the various leadership and management needs of the organization.

“Working out which types of leaders you have on your team can work wonders for the effectiveness as a group. It helps you to recognize how you and your colleagues can individually make their best contributions. This will in turn create a culture of mutual support and trust, reduce team stress and conflict, and make for more creative problem solving. It also informs your search for new additions to the team: what kinds of personality and skills are you missing?”


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In this post, I will integrate three articles on charisma.

  • In Search of Charisma, S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher, Scientific American Mind, July/August 2012
  • Learn to be Charismatic, Scott Edinger, HBR Blog Network, November 13, 2012
  • The Dark Side of Charisma, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, HBR Blog Network, November 16, 2012

Haslam and Reicher’s article begins with the quote,

Heads of state, chief executives and other leaders are not born with the power to inspire.  They manufacture this magic dust in partnership with their followers.

They assert that charisma is not a trait that the leader is born with, rather it is carefully crafted. Charisma is that what your followers confer on you based on craftsmanship.

Edinger states that “[l]eadership effectiveness is contextual – what works for one group doesn’t necessarily work for another” … “you simply have to understand and relate to others.” Haslam and Reicher provide more information about the group as context. By integrating the “group’s history, hopes and values into a coherent story” the leader appears to the group to be both of us and for us.

A charismatic leader is an entrepreneur of identity.  This person clarifies what we believe rather than telling people what they believe.  The art of charisma involves concealing the craft involved.  To declare bluntly, “this is who we are” invites the response “oh no we are not!”  Successful narratives of identity unfold as revelation rather than an edict.

Haslam and Reicher’s focus on the story is also suggested by Edinger, who states that one of he qualities of charismatic leaders is that of being a skilled communicator.

They tell stories.  They use concrete examples.  They talk about their feelings.  They look for ways to invoke common ground in an audience.

Edinger, whose article is about the qualities of a charismatic leader, suggests two other qualities:

  • “They tend to be extraverts” (introverts can be charismatic, but have to work harder at it)
  • “They feel your pain, really” (they have empathy)

Haslam and Reicher delve a little deeper by providing three principles that leaders should follow to improve charisma: reflecting, representing and realizing.  The leader should:

  • Reflect the culture and history of the group
  • Represent by being seen as both a member and proponent of the group
  • Realize the top priorities of the group by advancing them

While the other two articles address the positive aspects of charisma in leadership, Chamorro-Premuzic paints a frightful, dire image of the charismatic leader.  He warns that “the short-term benefits of charisma are often neutralized by its long-term consequences.”  He suggests four reasons for resisting charisma.

  1. Charisma dilutes judgment.  The author asserts that there are only three ways to influence: force, reason, or charm; claiming that charismatic leaders use charm, which is based on emotional manipulation.
  2. Charisma is addictive.  The author asserts that charismatic leaders become addicted to the “love” of their followers and the followers to the leader’s charisma.
  3. Charisma disguises psychopaths.  The author asserts that the charismatic leader’s charm hides their antisocial tendencies.
  4. Charisma fosters collective narcissism.  “People are charmed by others only when they share their core values and principles. [C]harisma facilitates ideological self-enhancement.”

I agree that there are negative examples of charismatic leaders who have influenced their followers into evil or dangerous acts.  However, does that make charisma itself inherently wrong?

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Several of my recent blog posts have dealt with leaders needing to develop relationships. A recent article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter on September 11, 2012 on the HBR Blog Network title, Why You Need Charisma can be added to collection.  Kanter states,

Leaders can hire for spreadsheet skills, but they can’t outsource relationship skills.

Kanter uses the description of a leader to support her position.

His magnetism isn’t in the stories he tells; it comes from the intense way he listens to other people’s stories and then draws them into an activity connected to that story.

His leadership model involves making sure all feel that they are special and will have their particular needs met, yet also feeling that they are all in it together, drawing strength from association….Lee’s world is appealing because it is highly positive; it’s hard to find a hint of rivalries or enmities[.]

Charisma isn’t oratory or rhetoric; Lee is not a polished speaker or writer. Charisma isn’t devoid of substance, either. Lee’s numbers must look good — which they do, because he can entice the best people and that entices others. Lee is just at the beginning of his leadership journey, but people have faith in him — more accurately, faith in the groups he can assemble because of his magnetism. That’s the essence of charisma.

It is true that no single individual succeeds by himself or herself. Even so-called “water walkers” (named after a religious figure, and one of my favorite images from my book Confidence) have stones holding them up while they walk on the water — that is, support systems just below the surface.

Some people, like President Clinton or my young friend Lee, seem naturally high in charisma, but there are ingredients that can be cultivated: A genuine interest in people. Listening to their needs and concerns, and showing that you will help them achieve their goals. Treating people as though each is special and deserves attention. Remembering details about them.

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Staying on the topic of leadership and influencing others, do you need charisma to be an effective leader?

My hardcover dictionary defines charisma as “A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm.”  Does fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm produce results?  Devotion and enthusiasm by themselves don’t produce results, but perhaps understanding how to develop charisma and using it appropriately to influence others to action might lead to results.

I saw an article on the Fast Company site, Cultivating Charisma:  How Personal Magnetism Can Help (Or Hurt) You At Work.  “Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, talks with Fast Company about why charisma is so critical to business and how special Jedi mind tricks can help get you there.”

In this article we learn that:

  • Charisma is a learned social skill.
  • There isn’t just one type of charisma, “There’s only the right form of charisma for the particular situation.”
  • There are at least four forms of charisma.
  • Introversion is an asset for several of the forms of charisma.
  • “Charisma makes people want to trust you and follow you.”
  • “It’s charisma that helps determine which ideas get adopted and how effectively your projects are implemented.”

In her book, Cabane discusses body language and its impact on charisma.  She indicates that while you can’t consciously control body language, you can learn to control your subconscious.  “The secret is to get you into the right charismatic mind to teach you to get a charismatic brain so you then exhibit the right charismatic body language so that then you are charismatic.”

Returning back to the dictionary definition of charisma, the Cabane would say that it is not a rare personal quality and that it’s not limited to leaders.  If it’s a skill, you can learn it.

It does sound a bit like magic or sleight of hand, learning to turn certain “personality traits” off or on.  However, like the recent articles on influencing style, I think it’s worthwhile for a leader to be aware of different forms of charisma and the appropriate application of each in different situations.

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