Sunday, July 3, 2011

Charisma , does anything else matter ?

Leadership books, blogs, and websites are a dime a dozen, yes, I know what this implies about this humble site.  Each one purports to hold the keys to the kingdom, leadership secrets that can catapult the average Joe from manager to leader in a few steps.  So, can we really all be right, or do we resist discussing the fear that maybe leaders are born, maybe there is no formula, maybe personality and good genes trump all else. 
Personally, I'm still betting that leadership is an acquired skill that can be improved and honed with time and practice. But its hard to resist a good deal of evidence that may indicate otherwise.  Honestly, for every trait that is claimed to be critical, I can find an acknowledged, world class leader who lacks the desire skill and in fact may represent just the opposite.

Really, do you think George Patton thought "Patience" was a virtue? Did Samuel Adams make a habit of using "Listening" skills while terrorizing the British? Can anybody legitimately claim Napoleon as an example of the "Servant Leader"?  Peter Drucker, the 20th Century's greatest management thinker, once said, “Leadership is all hype. We’ve had three great leaders in this century – Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.” Where is the humble, consensus builder in that group?

My point is simple, in the universe of so called critical leadership skills, I can only find three that are hard to dismiss by counter-example; persistence, boldness, and charisma. Since I've covered the first two to some degree already, I wanna concentrate on the third, Charisma, and by this I mean that charming personal magnetism; or the lantern-jawed, cigar-chomping, power-radiating um pah.  The sort of feeling that makes followers willing to walk through a brick wall if called upon.  Its just not fashionable to speak much of this in the modern management world, but that doesn't make it go away.  Great leaders have it, always.

So what do you do if you are the up and coming manager, persistent, willing to work long hours, patient and team building with all, but you just don't project that image of the fire in the belly leader?  No matter what you try, your team leaves meetings meditative, ready to work, but just walking, not running out of the tunnel cheering.  Well, unfortunately I don't have a charisma magic bullet, but I can suggest two important attitudes that if embraced, can only help.

First, you just have to have a deep desire to connect with and lead people.  Great leader are not half-hearted types, all the great ones burned with the desire to lead.  Work on connecting with people, obsessively communicate about your desires for them and for your team.  Make sure that every person you touch knows you care about where the ship is going and that you care that all aboard succeed.

Next, put yourself "out there".  Meaning, shrinking violets need not apply, be willing to be seen, heard, examined, and cross-examined.  Charismatic people draw people to them, and a big part of that draw is the willingness to take a chance, and clearly let everyone know where we stand.

You can still be an excellent manager, and solid leader, without possessing the charm of a Sean Connery, or the commanding presense of Margaret Thatcher, but at least consider paying some attention to charisma.  It can only help, not only in your professional world, but in your private one as well.

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