Peter Guber is the CEO of Mandalay Entertainment and the owner of the Golden State Warriors. As an accomplished entrepreneur, Guber shares his insights on communication, leadership and storytelling on his social media platforms. Recently, he posted one sentence on Twitter that reveals a key attribute of success. Guber's advice:
"Be interested. Don't try to be interesting."
In seven words, Guber captured a personality attribute that charismatic leaders have in common. It speaks to a fundamental human trait: People are far more interested in themselves than they are in others. You will win people over if you give them your undivided attention, really listen to them, ask them questions, and encourage them to share their story.
Guber's advice reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago on a plane flight to Orlando. The man seated next to me was on his way to make an appearance on the golf channel. The former television studio executive was invited to talk about his long-time friendships with legendary golfers. He gladly shared his stories with me as I asked questions about his life and experiences. We stepped off the plane and he said, "That was the most interesting conversation I've had in a long time." I was stunned because he had done most of the talking. He found our conversation interesting simply because I was interested in him.
Although "charisma" is considered a key quality of transformational leaders, a University of Tennessee communications professor wanted to find out exactly what people mean when they say someone has charisma. As you might expect, effective public-speaking skills ranked high on the list. But the research by professor Kenneth Levine also found that charisma was associated with leaders who are "good listeners," and who are "interested in what others think and feel."
Show me a "charismatic" leader, and I'll show you a person who is interested in others.
A Charismatic World Leader
When I first began writing books about communication skills, I interviewed a wide range of journalists who had covered political and business leaders as well as famous entrepreneurs. I wanted to identify the common attributes of inspiring speakers. One reporter for the Associated Press had interviewed U.S. presidents and world leaders. I asked him who was the most charismatic leader he'd ever met.
"Oh, that's easy. Bill Clinton," he said without hesitation. "He remembered things about me and always made me feel like the most important person in the room."
The word feel is the key word in this reporter's recollection of Clinton. Clinton was interesting because he was interested in the reporter and, by being interested, made the reporter feel good about himself. A few years after my conversation with the AP reporter, I heard golf commentator David Feherty make an observation after meeting Bill Clinton. "He's the kind of person who makes you feel like you're the only person in his world. You've got 100 percent of his attention at that moment. It's a tremendous talent."
'Working the Room' Takes Work
Charisma is a tremendous talent, but like all talents it can be sharpened with practice. I once watched the CEO of a large technology company work a room. This particular CEO, who has since retired, was a master salesman and widely admired for his personal charisma. I watched him shake hands, ask questions and listen intently to the answers. But he also did his homework. The CEO's assistant told me that she provided him with some personal insights about the key people in the room-- family, hobbies, education, experience--anything he could bring up in the conversation. He was a master at working the room, but it took a lot of work to make his charisma appear natural.
Charismatic people have--by definition--a quality that makes them attractive to others. They inspire devotion. They win people over. Remarkably, they're successful because they make others feel like their ideas matter. Take an interest in others and they'll take an interest in you.