Leadership charisma and personal charisma are very different things. They both involve the same kinds of personal attributes--the ability to project confidence, the capacity to engage others, skill in articulating ideas, vision, and goals—which may explain why some leaders aim for one when they should be developing the other.
Personal charisma is centered on the individual, as is the case with celebrities. Leadership charisma exists when a leader is charismatic in the service of the organization, for a greater good, or a higher purpose.
While personal charismatic traits can help a leader, too much of a good thing becomes unhelpful. Leaders who concentrate on constantly influencing others, for instance, may reduce the motivation and ability of their people to stake out their own opinions.
Here are several things to consider when growing your own leadership charisma.
1. Ask yourself: Why? The key to knowing which type of charisma you want to develop is rooted in your understanding of why you want to be more charismatic. You must ask yourself, “Why do I want this?” Do you crave attention, want validation, or are you trying to address some insecurity? Do you want to be magnetic because you think that’s what a leader should be? How does being more magnetic serve your leadership responsibilities? How will this enable you to better serve the organization? To better attend to your unique burden of being a leader?
2. You must be comfortable in your own skin. This is a broad encapsulation of the vital importance of knowing who you are as a leader, and why you are a leader, before you attempt to change your charismatic capabilities. Your “skin” in this sense is everything from your personal values and drivers to the precise point you currently find yourself in your life’s journey. Ask yourself, “What makes this leadership role at this time in my life the right role for me? How have I prepared? How will I continue to learn?”
Many leaders make the mistake of avoiding these difficult questions and instead focus on external characteristics of charisma. They simply think, “I need to be more persuasive when interacting with my direct reports,” and then go nuts trying to be more persuasive. Nobody likes that. Ungrounded charisma is abrasive and troubling. (I’ll write about the dangers of charisma in the final installment of this series.) If you do not first determine how you fit into your own skin, it will be painfully obvious.
3. You must be comfortable in your own body. Effective charismatic leaders have a sense of their physical selves and an ease about how they show up in front of their teams. This is not to say you have be Baryshnikov. But many of the attributes of charisma are expressed physically, and a leader must learn how to literally embody charisma.
How do you physically interact with people? What are you physically aware of when you engage in one-on-one conversations, among a small group, in front of a large audience? How do you modulate your voice, your listening, and your attention? How do you non-verbally communicate your engagement with others? How do you invite others to engage with you? While the research is not universally conclusive, it is clear that the physical, unspoken interactions between people are overwhelmingly influential in human relationships. Leaders who do not work on how they “show up” do so at their peril.
4. Practice, ideally with a Coach. The attributes of charisma contain tangible and intangible elements – and working with a trusted Coach provides a framework for working on both these elements. You need to have an outside perspective on your physical behavior to learn about your internal thought process.
For example, if you want to work on a tangible element of charisma such as public speaking, you must connect the physical work of evolving your voice with the psychological work of why the work matters to you. The recent film about Margaret Thatcher provides an excellent dramatization of a leader taking lessons to improve the tenor and tone of her voice and her ability to speak in public. As a result of this work on her physical voice, Thatcher discovered her “internal leadership voice” that was grounded in her personal convictions. It is a defining moment in her leadership development – and the result of practice.
5. Practice in a safe place. Too many leaders think they can wing it when it comes to developing their leadership. They try new things in front of their teams without first practicing, sometimes without much forethought. Bad idea. Performing well in the moment depends on practicing before the moment.
Practicing in private with a coach provides an opportunity for clarity on your intent, and allows for trial-and-error. While mistakes in public are inevitable and necessary, many mistakes are made much more usefully in private.
The good news is that if you want to practice leadership charisma, a little goes a long way. You are not endeavoring to call attention to yourself – you are developing new capabilities because your role requires you to shift your focus slightly and exercise these attributes. You don’t have to become someone else or transform yourself. Just find the connection to your organization that will allow you to stretch yourself.
As noted in a recent article on Presidential leadership in The Atlantic, “Not even FDR was FDR at the start.” He practiced, he learned, and he developed genuine leadership charisma. You can too.