World renowned speaker and author Dr. Tony Alessandra was recently on my online radio show, Charisma Live. In 1998, Dr. Alessandra wrote a book called “Charisma” and was one of the first persons I contacted when I decided to dedicate my life to the study of charisma and charismatic leadership. Many of the precepts in “Charisma” echoed my sentiments on the subject.
On this recent show, Dr. Alessandra described the experience he and others had when they met former President Bill Clinton. Dr. Alessandra and everyone who ever met President Clinton describe the experience similarly as being surreal. Although, there might be pandemonium around President Clinton, he gives you that moment where you feel you and he are the only people in the world. I never pondered much on this experiential concept until Dr. Alessandra brought it up in our recent interview.
Afterwards, the question for me became, “Did President Clinton have spellbinding charisma or did people get swept up into his celebrity as he provided a moment of specialness to them?” As a student of charisma as well as one who has experienced a great deal of charismatic personalities, I opted to believe President Clinton has great charisma, but that it is further amplified by his celebrity.
How many times have you experienced a charismatic personality and felt positive energy, but nothing surreal? Why wasn’t the experience more surreal? What could the individual have done to bump the experience to a President Clinton experience? Did the individual provide enough eye contact? Did he not make a concerted effort to get into your world?
I contend that celebrity provides a level of perceived charisma that is illusory. Eminent philosopher Thomas Carlyle said that people were “hard wired” for hero-worshipping. In other words, people seem to innately crave to believe in someone or something beyond themselves. A charismatic colleague, co-worker or associate may inspire visceral emotions inside you, but it falls short of a Clinton-esque experience, because you still see the person on the same psychic plain as yourself. People are awe-struck, not only by charismatic personalities, but the position or esteem held for them in a larger context. For President Clinton to acknowledge your existence on a seemingly personal level means more to you than a person operating charismatically on a similar level without the signature of celebrity. To say one has had a chat with President Clinton, even over a mundane subject matter, means more to some individuals than a thought provoking conversation with a professor at the local college. At this point, the surreal experience is not intellectual, but emotional. It doesn’t matter that a person may hold advanced degrees or even be a psychologist; individuals still can be swept into the maelstrom of a charismatic figure with celebrity. Even if you were to replicate every nuance of what makes President Clinton surreal, you still would fall short based on lacking celebrity status.
While celebrity status garners a higher degree of perceived charisma, you still can achieve similar results without celebrity. The emotionality of a person feeling positive about an interactive experience you created allows you to develop alliances others can’t without these special skills. Charisma is relative and to be able to see it from different angles allows for its strengths and weaknesses to be studied as well as utilized for maximum effectiveness.
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