Toba Beta, author of Master of Stupidity, says this: "Charisma is the fragrance of the soul."
Webster's Dictionary defines charisma as compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion on others or a divinely conferred power or talent. Its derivation is the Greek word charis, meaning favor, grace, beauty, kindness.
Charisma is a quality that is frequently possessed very publicly by entrepreneurs, but also not. My feeling is that charisma is innate in every human being and is a quality that can be cultivated.
Historian James MacGregor Burns, in his book Leadership, says this about charisma.
"The term charisma has taken on a number of different but overlapping meanings: leaders' magical qualities; an emotional bond between leader and led; dependence on a father figure to by the masses; popular assumptions that a leader is powerful, omniscient, and virtuous; imputation of enormous supernatural power to leaders (or secular power, or both); and simply popular support for a leader that verges on love."
People who truly know who they are and what they believe release a compelling power that is almost religious in its nature. We immediately think of many famous people from JFK to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Or actors like Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp, Clark Gable, etc. Or tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Mao. These and many other folks in many fields, seem to have a secret, recondite knowledge attached to a public presence.
I believe charisma is a direct subset of authenticity. It is something a seminal business owner can grow into through attaching herself to her own intuition of truth at all times. And the pathway to purvey this inner core is simply to constantly reflect real personal essence. This truth requires the courage to be fully vulnerable to and respectful of your own true north. It requires a consistent mindfulness that is like a daily course of weightlifting for the soul.
Certainly qualities like eloquence, pulchritude, and style are a help in enhancing charisma, but not at all its essence. Its essence is passion and commitment to a vision.
Ugly people have charisma. Fat people have charisma. Handicapped people have charisma. The best example of unlikely charisma I can think of is Abraham Lincoln, who was possessed of a stoic stone face his enemies called simian, who dressed only in black, dull, ill-fitting clothes, had an unkempt beard, and, to judge from his photographs, seemed to never comb his hair.
Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to grow into charisma because they operate in an vocational milieu of freedom. They take risks. (Certainly most of us don't wake up any day without feeling a whiff of danger and fear in the ether.) But entrepreneurs also have the opportunity of connecting their unique inner truth and vision to truly new, independent creations. In this sense entrepreneurs have the opportunity to be closer to the sacred, in this secular age, than many ministers or priests. Like the religious man or the artist, their path can be one of passion and verity.
I see the entrepreneurial leader's chief task to be to connect in the sales process to the simple truth of the product or service he sells. The entrepreneurial salesman creates an aura of certainty and faith. When he leaves a room he leaves a sense of inchoate longing behind. This longing is not for a service or product, but for meaning itself. That is what an ur-entrepreneurial salesman like Steve Jobs possessed in spades.
Historian Daniel Boorstin says, "I call [charisma] the need to be authentic---or, as our dictionaries tell us, conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief...[A person with charisma] is strong because he is what he seems to be." Thank you, Daniel.