Sunday, December 26, 2010

Charisma: A Misunderstood Concept

I often demarcate the difference between non-charismatic individuals exhibiting charismatic traits and a bona fide charismatic personality. The key to understanding the difference between the two perspectives lies in the ability to determine when something is similar, but not that thing itself. For example, one might describe a color as “pinkish.” Although it looks pink, it has differences that suggest it is not altogether the color pink. The same analogy applies to charismatic traits versus the charismatic personality. Charismatic traits may be better defined as “charisma-ish.” It may appear that we are splitting hairs here between the manifestations of something versus the purist form of a thing. However, concepts and definitions have very little meaning and utilitarian value if we cavalierly misuse or misappropriate terms due to lazy intellectualism or because something is illusory.

When we ascribe charismatic traits as being the end all to describing a charismatic personality, we dilute or taint the “specialness” and rarity of charismatic personalities. In fact, pure charismatic personalities are so rare that it requires observers a period of time to determine if they are witnessing actual charisma or mere glimpses of it. The charismatic personality, which is driven by an internal passion and missionary zeal, may show sparks of charisma throughout the charismatic’s life and at other times remain dormant. In other words, the charismatic personality is not always exhibiting charisma. He is not constantly spewing nuggets of wisdom or astounding the world with his brilliance. Often, he may be “picking his spots,” or looking for advantages to further his mission when times are not the most ideal for movement. When nothing appears to be going on at the surface, great preparation is being mobilized at the visceral level. This is a far cry from merely possessing highly evolved interpersonal communication skills.

If one were to peruse the mind of a charismatic personality, he would see pulsating energy, filled with color and verve, with seemingly discordant concepts loping after one another. This kaleidoscopic picture would inspire great emotions similar to the fast pace action at a circus, but it would all be aligned and sequential, if the charismatic personality was asked to explain it. The charismatic personality lives in the field of ideas and thus needs an inordinate amount of information in his efforts to complete a mission. Active listening, storytelling, eye contact and strategic touching are means of connecting to others to gain buy in. These traits are used to engage others by creating a sense of connection and magnetism as a conduit for moving the mission along.

Non-charismatic Individuals, who utilize charismatic traits, often have short term goals. Politicians, salesmen, and businessmen use these traits to achieve a limited goal like getting elected, making a sale, or being promoted. The charismatic personality uses the same trait as a long term strategy for transforming or revolutionizing an industry, country or status quo. For the charismatic personality there is no real separation between the trait and the actual personality. The non-charismatic is “acting,” and separates the action from his personality. The magnitude of the objective as well as an insatiable desire to achieve a goal play a large part in determining if one is viewing charismatic traits or the components of the charismatic personality. The charismatic personality has a long term objective, because he has committed his life to transforming an idea, structure or mode of thinking. The relentless, insatiable desire to obtain a goal bigger than himself is the root of the charismatic personality versus those merely exhibiting charismatic traits with limited scope.

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