Saturday, August 8, 2009

Charisma - do you have it?

Charisma comes from the Greek root word, 'Charis', which means 'grace or gift'. The belief is that the gods breathe into you, a special spirit. Charisma is an energy that can have a positive effect, or a highly disruptive negative impact. It attracts jealousy, and in extreme cases even loathing, from those who don't have it. If it's resident as a spark, it can be fanned into a flame. If it's not there ' well, it isn't ever going to be!

I was talking about charisma on radio one night. Saying pretty much what I've said here. Someone called me on my mobile phone literally the minute I left the studio, to ask, 'Do you think I have charisma?' I obeyed the Eastern dictum of 'tell the truth in the way that commits least injury', and replied with a non-answer, along the lines of, 'Your patients love you ' you must have some charisma.' What went through my mind though, was that if as an adult, you have to phone someone to ask if you have charisma, the answer is pretty self-evident.

You may however, like my young goddaughter, be unaware that you have charisma. And like her, be sincerely amazed at the degree of competitiveness, antagonism or hostility your energy-shifting presence causes in some circles. When people are deeply conservative, intellectually or emotionally constrained and restrained, they will frequently, if not always, interpret the impact of your charisma as a negative, threatening, dislocating force.

Good leaders all have charisma. It's what attracts people to them. 'Spellbinding, enthralling, captivating, riveting', are words that are often used to describe a charismatic person. Repelling people is the occasional opposite and negative effect of charisma.

Charisma isn't necessarily explicit, loud, vibrant or visible. It may be a quiet, compelling force emanating from someone with unobtrusive behaviour, speech or mannerisms. I'm reminded of a worldwide ad agency group CEO, speaking to us years ago on a training program. His was such a quiet but compelling, presence. He spoke softly - sometimes so softly you almost had to strain to hear him. But you absolutely couldn't ' and didn't ' want to ignore him. Not because of his position, or power, but because of his presence.

Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu has it. Nelson Mandela's birth name reflected in advance that he would have it ' Rolihlala in isiXhosa, means 'he who stirs up trouble.' In this case of an extremely positive kind! 'Brother Leader', the quixotic and seriously daft Muammar Gaddafi, has it. Adolph Hitler had it in evil bucket loads. Clinton has it, Tony Blair hasn't. Maggie Thatcher has it, John Major doesn't. Golda Meir had it, Ariel Sharon doesn't. It's something that leaps out of your television set. Love 'em or hate 'em, you'll notice when they have it.

Tim Sikyea, a native Canadian medicine man, described the gift of healing being given to someone, like this: 'When you are given the gift of healing, the Wise Ones put a beetle in your stomach. The beetle feeds on the pain and suffering of other people. The day you stop feeding the beetle with the suffering of others, it starts to consume you.'

What we often see in charismatic individuals is that they forget the gift is in trust and for the benefit of others. Accompanying personal magnetism, comes great responsibility. When people use the force for self-adulation, the beetle starts its slow work. The gift will drive them mad, or it will become a force for evil. You will remember the medium, and miss the message.

If you're aware that you have charisma, treat it like a radioactive isotope that has been put in your trust - with respect and awareness of its power to heal or harm ' depending on how it is applied.

Charisma doesn't require good looks, height, a great voice or some other distinctive feature. It is its own driving force ' independent of other attributes, which often have to function in concert, to have an impact.

Many organizations and corporates pay lip service to respect for diversity. But it's almost a given, that the day someone with charisma walks through the door, the organization will mount an 'immune system response'. It sets out to crush or kill the 'invading' foreign organism or bacterium, overwhelm it, and pull it into line with 'normal' cellular function. It takes deeply insightful leaders to accept and nurture charismatic employees. Most commonly the charismatic ones give up the fight against mediocrity, and go off and do their own thing.

About the author: Clive is a marketing and communications strategist. He helps people and organizations make sustainable change.

Author: Clive Simpkins

Related: Charisma

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