January 21, 2010
‘Is a perception of you that can only be defined by someone else. It’s the unique effect you have on other people made up of energy (sparkle and forcefulness), self-esteem (substance), image (presentation) and communication in the widest sense (speaking, listening, making people feel special). It turns heads when you walk into a room, draws people to you, makes them want to be your friend and leaves them with the imprint and feel of you in their memory.’
This was my winning entry for the bussinessballs.com charisma definition last year. It’s still OK as a generic definition, but since I wrote it I’ve thought a lot more about charisma, what it is and how to develop it. I’m still thinking, but here are my thoughts on what it is so far, for what they are worth.
Charisma vs Presence
Charisma, it seems to me, is similar but not the same as presence. Presence can be characterised by the first part of the definition: … the unique effect you have on other people made up of energy (sparkle and forcefulness), self-esteem (substance), image (presentation) and communication in the widest sense (speaking, listening, making people feel special)’, but not necessarily all of the last sentence. Presence turns heads when you walk into a room, but doesn’t necessarily draw people to you or make them want to be your friend. Presence has a dark side and is not always magnetic – which I think Charsima always is – and can be repellent at the other extreme (as in ‘a dark, brooding presence’ – Heathcliffe for example). Presence is sometimes an expression of self-confidence and how the person feels about himself/herself. It can also be purely physical – striking looks, booming voice or just size. So no, they aren’t the same.
Charisma vs Charm
Charm has all sorts of connotations. For example, Chris my partner, thinks of it as greasy and obsequious. I don’t. I use it here to mean some extra, magical quality that some people have. It can be turned on and off and it’s essentially good and always attractive. It’s not the same a presence or charisma as you may not be able to see that someone has it when they are in a crowd of people. With presence
and charisma, you can. I think charm is an intimate thing, to do with connecting with people, that sometimes is only evident when the person talks to you or looks at you. It makes other people feel special, makes them want to be your friend and leaves them with the imprint and feel of you in their memory. So no, charm is not the same as charisma.
Does presence + charm = Charisma?
Well no. And this is what’s been bugging me. There’s a biography out by the guy who was Nixon’s aide or whatever they call them over in the US (sorry, don’t
remember his name). In it, he writes about the time when he and Nixon went to meet Mau Tse Tung. He describes Mau as having immense charisma – very, very scary. You see how this little story has thrown my thoughts into maelstrom. Because yes, that’s charisma, too isn’t it? In the Max Weber/leadership* sense rather than in the smaller-scale, domestic, charming sense. This kind of charisma is
to do with power. Not just power by itself, but being given power by people who believe you have it. It kind of pumps you up. Weber himself points out that leadership charisma only lasts as long as people’s belief in it does. So it does have something to do with power bestowed on you by other people.
*Charisma as defined by Max Weber, political economist and sociologist, 1864-1920
a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which one is ‘set apart’
from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These as such are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as divine in origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.