OK. Let’s look at it another way. Here am I trying to define charisma – not to find out what it is but to find a way of expressing what I know. By trying to describe it, what I’m doing is unpacking and identifying the complicated strands and shades of meaning that make up my own understanding of it. In the process I find out more.
So perhaps another way round would be to identify people who have it and unpack its components from that list.
Here’s a really simple exercise to help tap into intuition and judgement. I’ve used it when I haven’t been sure of how I feel about a certain aspect of something or someone.
You do have to be clear of your terms of reference or it won’t work. It’s good because you’re not distracted by other considerations – whether you like the people, approve of them or anything else. You’re focusing on just one aspect.
1. Start with the aspect you want to know about (charisma)
2. Think of the opposite attribute (‘no charisma’ is good enough)
3. Think about what charisma means to you and get the feel for it
4. Then say the names of people you know or know about (I’m thinking famous or at any rate, in the public eye), focusing on ‘charisma or no charisma’, making a very quick decision about each one. Yes or no will do once you’ve got your focus.
You may want to start off with people you’re sure about before you get to the trickier ones, just to get you in flow with the exercise. It’s the trickier ones that stretch you, make you dig deeper into your intuition and can also surprise you.
I started with politicians: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Thatcher, Ming/Menzies Campbell, Alistair Darling etc
So I’m thinking: Blair – yes, Brown – no, Cameron – yes, Thatcher- yes, Campbell – no, Darling – no.
To get the definition, go through your ‘yes or no’ list and look at what they have or don’t have that made you say yes or no.
However, in this case, something is not right. I’m pretty sure that if I met Gordon Brown, Ming/Menzies Campbell or Alistair Darling in person, my view would change. Even the most uncharismatic famous or important person would have some sort of presence or charisma in the flesh by virtue of their authority and the power/importance ascribed to them by other people, including me.
It doesn’t seem quite right on another front, either, because I’m missing information. I know that people can have stage presence and have no personal presence and vice versa. As I’ve never met any of the people on my list face to face, I don’t know whether this is or isn’t true of them. I think, then, that with this list, I’m talking about stage presence.
And before he was Lib-dem leader and savaged by a public baying for youth, I liked Ming/Menzies on the radio – he had radio presence.
So I do the exercise with family members and friends. As I do this, I realise that I’m concerned with personal presence. I think this is not the same as charisma, it’s more like charm (see my last blog entry on charisma).
So I’m now contemplating 3 kinds of presence:
- personal presence – a sort of small-scale but compelling charisma/charm that ordinary people might have. People notice them when they come into a room etc.
- stage/camera presence – you can have that with or without personal presence and all shades in between. I saw Prince at the 02 arena a few years ago and although I was right up on the highest balcony, his tiny faraway figure crackled with a kind of electrical charge. Some actors and singers have more of it offstage than on - fairly unassuming offstage, then they light up on stage. Not that I think Prince is either very large, even close to, or unassuming…
- charisma - more like the Weber definition (see previous blog). Importance and presence that includes the trappings of power - as much to do with an accretion of other people’s perceptions as with an inherent quality, all of which builds into iconic status.