Charisma, and How to Get More of It

Do leaders need to be charismatic in order to be successful? I don't think so, but charisma certainly helps and I think it is possible for everyone to increase their "charisma quotient." Thus, those who want to lead would do well to pay a bit of attention to this quality.

The original Greek roots of the word charisma refer to a gift of grace given by the divine, and this may have led to the commonly held view that, when it comes to charisma, you either have it or you don't. Anecdotally, we all know people who seem to have that X-factor that draws attention and makes people want to follow; when they enter a room, it feels like two people have entered. We also know people who seem to completely lack that X-factor; when they enter a room it feels as if two people left. These experiences with other people can reinforce the "have it or not" view of charisma.

This view is unfortunate because it often stops people from trying to become more charismatic, which then hampers the fulfillment of one's leadership potential. The rest of this post explores how we can overcome this bias and work on increasing your charisma quotient.

Some Thoughts on Leadership

(Note: This is an excerpt from a much longer article called "Awareness to Action Leadership," which can be found here.)

Working with leaders, you can’t help but think a lot about leadership. Over the years I’ve developed a lot of opinions on the topic, and perhaps gained a few insights. In this post, I’d like to introduce the approach to leadership that I take with my clients, something I call “Awareness to Action Leadership.”
It’s important to define terms, so let me define what I mean by leadership. There are as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders and people writing about leaders, but this one works for me: successful leadership is the act of influencing others to effectively achieve a desired result consistently and over time. There are a couple of assumptions implicit in this definition, namely that leadership involves the engagement of others, that good leadership improves circumstances, and that in order to get results over time one must lead in a way that makes others want to follow. Thus, treating people well is inherently more effective than treating them poorly.

I’d like to start with some opinions I’ve formed:

There is no secret formula.
Leadership is very context specific; what works in one situation for one person may not work in another situation, or even for a different person in the same situation. Effective leadership requires adaptability to the variables of individuals, contexts, and goals. Circumstances may require a leader to call upon any of a very long list of skills, competencies, attitudes, or behaviors. The challenge is that we can never know in advance what those variables may be at any given time. Thus, a leader must be a student of leadership, continually improving his or her abilities, and constantly monitoring the environment for cues as to what abilities need to be developed. As Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Nowhere is this more true than in leadership.

Because there is no secret formula, we should always beware those who promise a secret formula. If a consultant tells you that his or her list is complete or “necessary and sufficient,” walk slowly to the door.

Leaders are “born” and “made.”