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Charisma: Have You Got Any?

Posted on the 30 April 2013 by Alanhargreaves @RechargeToday

Charisma: have you got any?Charisma: have you got any?Has the “celeb” thing plundered this old word?

Charisma derives from Charis, an associate of Aphrodite in Homer’s Odyssey. Charis was beautiful, but not a central character. Nothing about her seemed particularly special. She was like many of today’s “celebs”: she looked OK but didn’t do much. 

We could make similar observations about celebrity CEOs. They don’t make much difference either. Several studies show corporate performance to be anywhere from average to disastrous under so-called charismatic leaders.

Some rare standouts make a well-publicized difference. Steve Jobs probably fits the first Oxford definition of charisma of “having divinely conferred power or talent.” There was certainly a mystique about him, more so for his passing. But he was also the right person at the right time. He’s the exception, not the rule. 

Charisma: have you got any?
Many firms have imported charismatic managers to fix things only to end up in worse shape. Sticking with what you know seems to work better. A study by Sloan School of Management found that rather than hiring exciting talent, 97% of companies with great staying power promoted their CEOs from within.

The Sloan research famously concluded: “If your company is heading in the right direction, a charismatic leader will get you there faster. Unfortunately, if you’re heading in the wrong direction, charisma will also get you there faster.”

There are reasons for that. A strong personality can easily be mistaken for charisma. CEOs with strong opinions can shut down alternative ideas that would have proved a better option. Powerful leadership is more often about character than personality.

People can also masquerade as charismatic. Those great lists of “five ways to make you charismatic” are rarely more than hints on how to make a good presentation.  Real leadership is a lot more than that.

Charisma: have you got any?
Unlike celebs you can’t just look and sound good. Being a good team leader, manager, entrepreneur or CEO is far more earthly. It’s like being good at life. You actually have to show up and do something.

These things help

Credentials. You are probably good at some things. Get better at them and do them more often. Get someone else to do the other things. That’s management. 

Listen. People are motivated when their opinion is valued. Listen to them. Not only do they rise as a result, you also get more ideas. What’s more, their input will improve your own.

Authenticity. You may have a certain mystique, but it will only have impact and longevity if it is rooted in who you really are. Your strength may lie in creative ability, administrative flair, analytical skill or just your sense of fairness. It doesn’t matter which. Base your style on something authentic about you.

Charisma: have you got any?
The second Oxford definition of charisma is this: “a capacity to inspire followers with devotion and enthusiasm.”

I know plenty of people who do that and who are not celebrities. They run businesses of all sizes and run them successfully. Their people are motivated and engaged. They have a positive impact on those around them. That’s usually because they have learnt some specific skills, they are open to ideas other than their own and they don’t try to be something they are not.

Sounds like charisma to me.


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