Whatever your view about charisma, the term can ignite a host of different emotional reactions. Some people find the whole topic of charisma to be a complete turn off as they imagine that you have to shout or show off to be seen as charismatic. Other people are wary that the power wielded by a charismatic leader can be used to manipulate others into doing something that they don’t want to do. There is a growing appetite in visionary organisations that a charismatic leader can bring about transformational change during times of economic and political uncertainty.
Over the past three decades I have been fascinated by charisma and how it will transform, inspire and engage. During my own research I discovered that you can’t teach charisma. If you model the behaviours of a charismatic individual and try to teach others these behaviours, if they are not aligned with the real authentic person they will mute their innate charisma.
I define charisma as an authentic power that captivates the hearts and minds of others. When you are acting in alignment with your true self then you shine in a way that only you can shine. We are each born with an inner radiance that truthfully exudes how we feel and what we want at any given moment. A baby cries when it’s hungry and gurgles when it feels content. As we start to grow we experience that the world does not revolve around us, it is not at our beck and call. We begin to realise that we have to adapt to others if we want to feel accepted. We learn what pleases ‘mummy’ and what makes ‘daddy’ angry. Without being particularly conscious of what we are doing, we start to mould who we are and how we express who we are in a series of thoughts, opinions, behaviours and strategies that allow us to conform and fit into the fabric of societal pressures.
In this malleable state we lose sight of our own identity and in effect we hamstring our own ability to shine. Unless we find the courage to walk our own path in a way that reflects the truth of our inner character then we attract a veneer that causes others to stand back and view us with wariness.
In the moment of our authenticity we are connected to our heart and this is when we become the highest version of ourselves. Regardless of how others appear to you (for example more charismatic, less charismatic), we all radiate a unique and powerful energy when how we are outside reflects how we feel inside. Charismatic leaders build high levels of trust and create an emotional reaction within others. Charismatic leaders have this way of tugging at your heart strings and stirring you up to want to follow them.
When times are uncertain, we crave certainty. When we feel scared then we need to feel safe. When we feel lost we look for someone who has a clear vision. When we feel weak and vulnerable then we seek out those with strength and omnipotence. A leader who can articulate the truth of a situation inspires trust. A leader who creates an environment where people feel safe to explore their potential will build engagement. A leader who is emotionally connected holds the power to move people beyond words and inspires them to accomplish great things. These attributes are the embodiment of a charismatic leader.
If you reflect on the Kubler-Ross Change Curve it depicts the process that people evolve through from the moment of the change occurring to the time it has been integrated and accepted. Stage 1 looks at how people often go into a state of shock and denial that the change has happened or the change has been announced. The charismatic leader communicates with authenticity and with high levels of empathy. They exude a strength that lets followers know that they will be supported and looked after. As the change evolves into stage 2 the leader’s ability to be strong, resilient and reassuring becomes vital. Studies from various sources (ref: Charismatic to the Core by Nikki Owen) provides evidence that there is a link between charisma and resilience. The leader’s vision to ensure that the change evolves into the realisation of the whole new world continues to support the transition. Whether changes are linked to Brexit negotiations, organisational redundancies or acquisitions and mergers, the leader who can balance strength with compassion, vision with resilience and inspiration with safety and security will emerge triumphant.
Charisma is not an abstract ‘gift’ that the lucky few are born with. Nor can it be taught. Its potential lives like a seed within us all. When we are prepared to take off the different masks we think we should wear and stop pretending to be the person others expect us to be then we connect to the highest version of ourselves.
Charisma is not the latest corporate gimmick. It is a powerful attribute that is properly understood. When we appreciate that we all have charismatic potential then charisma can be included as an important leadership competency. Organisations who are still fearful of the ‘hocus pocus’ surrounding Emotional intelligence and mindfulness are going to struggle with the notion of charismatic leadership. These organisations will be left behind because during times of uncertainty, organisations with charismatic leaders at their head will fly way higher that their competitors.
Times are changing. The old ways of leading are ineffectual and impotent in this crazy super-charged world. The digital revolution has created a trend towards automated processes that has caused isolation and a silo-mentality. We’ve lost the human touch point. Heart-centred leadership that embraces each individual as a whole person and the whole system as a collective, revivifies that emotional touch point. A charismatic leader will join up the dots of ‘separateness’ providing unity, constancy and optimism in a world that is constantly changing.