Charisma – “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty” (Webster Dictionary)
You notice them the minute they enter a room. That aura, that confidence, that vibe.
All eyes will find them. And they will attract a crowd.
When they appear on stage or in a meeting, the electricity is palpable. The listeners hang on every word, and delight in the wit and candor they display.
Who are these people? The charismatic leaders.
I saw one of them last week at the World Business Forum (#wbf10 on Twitter) in New York – former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. He had quite the command of the audience, answering questions with searing honesty and with a flair only possessed by the charismatic.
Only he could proclaim “Twitter is Fun” with a mixture of devilish charm and gravitas, and not make it sound pedestrian.
I’ve also been fortunate to work for two CEO’s that had plenty of charisma, and I always marveled at their ability to project such “presence” in any public space they inhabited.
Over the last 25 years, while I’ve worked for these two leaders, I’ve often wondered if charisma is just one of those things you’re born with, and cannot be taught.
Something almost supernatural – a gift from above, as it were. After all, that’s the Greek origin of the word.
And goodness knows I’ve put a lot of personal effort into creating charisma, but I can’t say I’ve ever recreated the kind of buzz my old bosses did when they worked their magic.
Watching Jack Welch last week resurfaced all those wonderings, and while it’s still somewhat mysterious to me, after a few days of contemplation I finally have a theory about charisma.
The theory? Charisma CAN be taught – to a degree. About 90% of it, in my view, is obtainable through experience, self-awareness, observation, confidence, good grooming and appearance, intelligence, a good command of the language, and (maybe most importantly), a unwavering belief that you have it.
(Yes, if you’re thinking, “you mean even just acting like I have charisma”, you are correct)
The other 10% is a gift. A wonderful, special gift, much like artistic, athletic, or musical ones that put those lucky enough to have it a notch ahead of the rest of us at the starting gate.
But the real question is – if we don’t have the 10%, can we still get to leadership greatness with the 90%, or even less than that?
Oh yes we can.
Because in my view that 10% can be overcome with three things – hard work, a passion for leadership, and sheer determination.
We see this every day out in the business world – CEO “rock stars” being outflanked , outhustled, and ultimately beaten by those “90 percenters”.
There’s no doubt that there is something special about those who can project the full potency of charisma – my immense enjoyment of Jack Welch is testament to that – but it’s no guarantee of success, nor is it an unbeatable difference between winning and losing..
If you’re like me, getting to the 90% is enough give greatness a heck of a good shot. And that’s all we can ask for, putting ourselves in the best position to succeed, given the gifts from above we do possess.