Charisma. It’s such an important concept in leadership, but it can be quite difficult to pin down exactly what makes someone charismatic. I guess it’s a little bit like the judge trying to describe pornography, who claimed that he couldn’t possibly define it, but “I know it when I see it”. We all know charisma when we see it, or think we do, but it’s really hard to define.
One of the problems with the way we think about charisma is that we tend to think of it as something you’re either born with or you’re not. It’s a character trait. I’m blonde (or at least I used to be), I’m tall, I’m charismatic.
This is a problem for those who want to take on leadership positions, because a lot of leadership is about charisma. It’s about being persuasive, engaging and inspiring others. Leadership really only exists if others are willing to follow you, and that is all about charisma.
That’s why it’s really important to understand that charisma, as with so much in life, is actually a skill. Sure, some guys are 6 foot 2, built like a brick… Ahem… go the gym a lot and look like they belong on the cover of Men’s Health. They do have a little bit of a head start on us mere mortals, but good looks actually have very little to do with charisma.
Charisma really is about three main things; confidence, congruence and capability. If you can build up these three factors, your charisma rises with them.
Do you have confidence in yourself? Confidence in your decisions? Confidence in your ability to handle whatever life throws at you? I’m not talking about swagger here. I mean the deep, core confidence. The type that doesn’t need to prove itself.
This kind of confidence is a key component of having charisma. Have you ever wondered why so many deeply charismatic people have served in the military? It’s because those of us who have served have faced a huge range of intensely difficult and challenging situations and have come out the other side. That’s one way to develop a strong core confidence.
It isn’t the only way, though. Personal development and self-awareness help you to recognise both your strengths and your weaknesses. Core confidence doesn’t come from bravado or arrogance. It comes from knowing exactly what our skill set is, and learning to value that skill set. I’ve talked so many times about the importance of awareness and journaling and self-reflection, because it really is key.
Congruence or authenticity is about really being yourself. It’s about not just talking the talk, but really walking the walk. Congruence also takes a lot of self-awareness. You need to know who you are deep down, and face up to some of the parts about yourself that you’d rather not see, before you can develop the courage to be fully open and genuine with the world around you.
Great, charismatic leaders walk the walk all the time. It’s not just when you’re with clients, or when the cameras are rolling. Being secure and settled in who you are is essential to allow others to trust and to follow where you lead.
You need to be able to prove to people that you have the skills and the determination to help them get to where they want to go. A leader has to make people believe in their capabilities. A few months ago I was talking in one of my podcasts (which you can listen to here, if you’ll forgive the blatant plug) about how the All Black rugby team have an attitude of Sweeping the Floor. The principle is that there is no task that is beneath you and everyone should pitch in where they can. For me, this ties in with capability. Being ready to roll up your sleeves and do the hard jobs shows that you are capable and that you understand the importance of everyone else’s roles.
Charisma is absolutely something you can improve, and I would say that it’s an essential skill for all leaders. Confidence, congruence and capability make a huge difference, but this is definitely a topic we’ll come back to soon as there’s a lot more to say.