Without question, there are giants in our history who bear this out. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, wowed scores of Americans -- not just with his public speaking, but with his unmitigated compassion.
This formula has application in business, too. Just watch an Apple keynote from the early 2000s; there was no question that beloved Steve Jobs, whose dedication and vision alone were enough to draw in Apple zealots, was revered as a beacon in the world of technology. He evinced -- in spades -- many qualities that figure into the leadership formula, including a deep connection to his "fans."
But this charismatic leadership doesn't really apply anymore.
How Tech Redefined Charismatic Leadership
We may seem but a short time removed from the early 2000s, but things have changed significantly since Jobs took the stage for keynotes in the oughts. We digest most information on our devices now. We communicate with each other on our devices. We shop on our devices. We learn on our devices. We are nothing without our devices.
What's more, business use of collaboration and communication tools has skyrocketed. Case in point: Slack. Just three years ago, in 2017, it passed 6 million active users. According to Slack's website, it now has more than 12 million. That means more people in business are using Slack to get the job done, which requires leaders to live in their workaday spaces.
And what does charisma look like in Slack exactly? Or via YouTube? Or on Twitter? Is it flashy photos and alliterative 260-character witticisms? Or maybe just consistent presence -- a rhythmic posting of burbly content that is altogether predictable, if not altogether helpful?
No. I would argue that charisma is a countering of the communication-devastating, device-first culture. Charisma -- and really, the leadership we've so deeply loved in generations past -- is the act of engaging with personalities and people sans technological mediators.
Getting Face Time
Regular face-to-face engagement is undoubtedly hard in a remote-happy era but is critical for mutual understanding. Professor of psychology Dr. Albert Mehrabian underscored this decades ago when he proposed the 7-38-55 communication rule. By his reckoning -- supported by extensive research -- 55 percent of communication is body language. Where does that go when bodies are no longer part of our interactions? Is messaging accurate anymore? Do we really connect with personalities and people? I would argue that we don't.
Fortunately, we can get ahead of this. My advice to any manager or leader is to schedule in-person meetings with your team at least once a week. Sure, this will be complemented by communication via email, Slack, Zoom, etc., but face-to-face meetings should always anchor your professional relationships.
These don't have to be one-on-one meetings, either -- they just need to give you the opportunity to engage your employees directly. They should have a chance to ask questions and address issues, while you should focus on clarifying, energizing, and inspiring as you look to grow your company.
What you'll find is that the emotional and physical context afforded by this interaction offers tremendous insight into employees' performance and wellbeing. What's more, your employees will have a much clearer sense of what's important to you and how you are tackling key problems.
In other words, yes. Charisma is still needed in 21st-century leadership because people are still needed in 21st-century business. Admittedly, it looks a little different than it did 25 years ago; it's not crowd-drawing speeches and impassioned keynotes. It's simple engagement -- face to face. And while that seems utterly impossible to some technophiles, it will be the truly charismatic leaders of this age who get us to achieve such critical interaction.