In our highly connected, fast-changing world, we’re all on the lookout for charismatic leadership. What qualities does someone need for us to consider them to be charismatic?
Charisma, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others’. Robert House at the University of Pennsylvania has studied the relationship between charisma and leadership for many years. He has found a strong link between the two, although he concedes that an individual need not necessarily be charismatic to become a leader.
A charismatic leader, he argues, is supportive, sensitive, nurturing and considerate, whereas a non-charismatic leader is best described as aggressive, demanding, dominant and critical. In one of his many studies, he looked at the leadership effectiveness of a number of US presidents and added that the ability to stand up strongly to crises – but at the same time to show self-restraint in their use of power – are two other important qualities of effective and charismatic leadership.
Katherine Klein at the University of Maryland adds that a charismatic leader is socially aware and sensitive to the concerns of the followers they hope to attract. In other words, charisma must be a two-way relationship in which a leader exhibits qualities and convictions that reflect the needs of their followers.
Howard Friedman and his colleagues at the University of California Riverside tested 54 undergraduates for a number of personal qualities. They found that personal charisma—how likeable the students were judged to be on first encounter—was correlated with extroversion and emotional expressiveness.
Finally, Cynthia Emrich at Purdue University examined the inaugural addresses of a number of US presidents and compared each to the perceptions of their charisma and greatness. She noted that those who used image-based rhetoric – in other words, who painted vivid pictures with words – were considered to be the greatest and most charismatic leaders.
Think, for example, how much less effective Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech would have been had he simply argued the need for equality, rather than inviting us to imagine a nation where ‘little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers’.
Putting all this together, what are the qualities that together create charisma? Extroversion: charismatic people are outgoing, socially confident, and genuinely interested in other people.
Empathy: they’re ‘tuned in’ to the individuals they hope to attract as followers, aware of their needs and concerns. They ask open questions and make good – but not too much – eye contact. They’re excellent listeners, and are considerate, sensitive and supportive of others.
Emotional expressiveness: charismatic individuals are passionate about what they believe in and unafraid to show their emotions, but at the same time they show appropriate self-restraint.
Excellent communication skills: the charismatic know how to express themselves clearly, both verbally and non-verbally. They convey their messages by telling ‘stories’, and paint powerful images in their speeches.-THE TELEGRAPH