Values and ethics
Charisma, like money, is in itself neither good nor bad; but this powerful X-factor can be used to extraordinary effect by good and bad people towards good or bad ends. The guiding constraint at all times is the set of values and ethics to which the charismatic leader subscribes. By all means be attracted, but always be careful to examine the values before you sign up as a follower.
Born or made?
As most references to charisma are anecdotal and intuitive rather than being based on real science, a myth has grown that charisma is a "divine gift", possessed only by those who are born to lead. If we have not been equipped with it at birth, well, there is no point in trying to aquire it. This is a massive error.
The truth is that charisma can be learned, aquired and developed. It is a prize worth having, as research consistently shows that charismatic, enthusiastic, exciting team players are generally much more successful in business, political and organisational leadership than mundane low-key plodders.
Those of us who aspire to lead should polish the charismatic skill as carefully as, say, the skill of emotional intelligence. Neglect of this key area does a disservice to those we are charged with leading and under-optimises our personal potential. Is our neglect due to false modesty or laziness?
"Tall poppy" reluctance
For various reasons, many of us are reluctant to admit that we would even consider making any attempt to polish or enhance our charisma. Why?
• Aspiration towards greater charisma is often interpreted as crass self-promotion
• Training courses in charisma, where they exist at the moment, are widely advertised as "magic" and "fun" and do suffer from more than a flavour of "release the giant within" and walking on hot coals hocus pocus, despite their possible benefit as an enjoyable day out
• Leaders such as Hitler, Jim Jones, David Koresh and Charles Manson have misused their charismatic gifts to the great detriment of their followers and mankind in general
• Many will identify with my own experience where two of the CEOs for whom I have worked were highly charismatic, but were at the same time manipulative bullies. Absolute horrors on occasion
• Some people who think themselves charismatic are really just oleaginous insincere fakers
• Currently, training in charisma has no quantitative science at its base, no measurement and no clearly definable business outcomes
• Assessment of the attribute is generally superficial and based on unweighted pop-quiz questionnaires.
MIT can now measure the power of charisma
The Harvard Business Review recently reported on MIT Professor Alex Pentland's ground-breaking research on measuring the power of charisma in business dealings.
The MIT Human Dynamics Lab "outfitted executives at a party with devices that recorded data on their social signals - tone of voice, gesticulation, proximity to others, and more. Five days later the same executives presented business plans to a panel of judges in a contest. Without reading or hearing the pitches, Pentland correctly forecasted the winners, using only data collected at the party"
Now we all know that a business plan, however good, doth not alone a business make; Professor Pentland's further research aims to refine measurements that will enable clearer definition of the social and behavioural attributes required for the enhancement of effective business charisma.
When the work of the MIT Human Dynamics Lab on charisma is fully validated, serious executives will be able to target the specific signals they can develop for the enhancement of their charisma, unique attractiveness and ability to influence all with whom they come in contact.
80% of us think we are above average in driving ability; it may be the case that as business managers we suffer from similar illusions with regard to our personal charismatic X-factor and business effectiveness. This research has enormous possibilities for good in the fields of enterprise and organisational competitive advantage.
Want to see a fine modern day example of a charismatic leader? Watch the video below to see Barack Obama in action