Charisma and Leadership

Charisma is simply wise leadership, says Staffan Kurtén.

I read an interesting column just the other day (Linda Blair in The Daily Telegraph 19.6.2017). It was about charisma, this much researched and mysterious leadership quality or feature. Are people born with charisma, or do they develop it over time through experience. Can you learn it? What is it?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, charisma is ”compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others”. Many have studied the relationship between charisma and great leadership and found links. Having said that, it is also clear that you don´t necessarily have to be charismatic to be a great leader. A charismatic leader is supportive, sensitive, nurturing and considerate, among other things. A non-charismatic one is bossy, demanding and critical. Another study looked at the leadership effectiveness of US presidents, and found that the ability to stand up strong to crises – but also show self-restraint in their use of power – are other important qualities. A third study adds that a charismatic leader is socially aware and sensitive to the concerns of those they hope to attract. Therefore, charisma must be a two-way relationship in which a leader exhibits qualities and convictions that reflect the needs of their followers.

I quote Linda Blair:

”Putting all this research together, what are the qualities that together create charisma?

Charismatic people are outgoing, socially confident and genuinely interested in other people.

They´re ”turned in” to the people they hope to attrcat as followers, aware of their needs and concerns. They ask open questions and make good – but not too much – eye contact. They´re excellent listeners, and are conciderate, sensitive and supportive of others.

Emotional expressiveness:
Charismatic individuals are passionate about what they believe in and unafraid to show their emotions, but also show self-restraint.

Excellent communication skills:
The charismatic know-how to express themselves clearly, both verbally and non-verbally. They convey messages by telling ”stories”, and paint powerful images in their speeches”.

So, can I become a more charismatic leader, or should I be born with a certain leader-dna and under lucky stars? When reflecting on this question, many of us think of great charismatic leaders like Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Mahatma Gandhi, and conclude: ”I can never be like them”.

But, if you consider the above definitions of charisma, you will see that there is nothing mysterious about it. It is decent human behavior, courage and respect. It is modern leadership and it is successful in the new business world of today. Leaders on all levels of the organization have it, some more some less, but all can learn, develop and grow. It is simply wise leadership.  

Staffan Kurtén, Founding Partner, Business Coach