We all know leaders who are effective but have the charisma of a brick. Can they be trained to acquire and develop this trait? Well it appears they can – to a point.
Say what you like about Sven-Goran Eriksson, but you’d be unlikely to call him charismatic. He may be a wealthy babe-magnet and a tactical ingénue, but a charismatic leader? Er, no.
Yet charisma is for many the true mark of outstanding leadership. It is a quality that manifests itself in those of whom we say “they can fill a room with their presence”. Some even have the ability to – Big Brother-like – project it through television screens.
But those who have it tend to be a mixed bunch. On the one hand there are arguably admirable leaders, such as Winston Churchill and Bill Clinton. On the other, there are unsavoury types: for example, the late German fuhrer and US evangelist, the reverend James Jones.
In case you’ve forgotten, Jones led an extreme Doomsday religious cult, most of whose members perished in a mass suicide in Guyana in November 1978, after imbibing, at Jones’ behest, a poison-laced drink – which is where inappropriate use of charisma and fruit squash can lead.
Yet Jones truly measured up to the Oxford English dictionary definition of charisma as a “divinely conferred power or talent and the capacity to inspire followers with devotion and enthusiasm”.
Such an example indicates that unbridled charisma is not always a force for general good. But put it in a list of qualities that leaders would like to have and I bet they’d put it at or near the top.
That could be why training and coaching in charisma is creeping in to leadership courses and in to management recruitment and selection processes. Not surprising when you consider the mega-star business leaders who populate TV and feature in management autobiographies – Sir Alan Sugar, Jack Welch and Sir John Harvey Jones all fit the charismatic business leader bill.
Of course, the issue for training and learning and development types is can charisma be taught and learnt? Not if you believe the dictionary definition. But that won’t stop training and coaching providers coming up with a magic formula.
What will they base it on? Enter Hertfordshire University psychology professor Richard Wiseman, who has analysed the components of charisma. He says a charismatic person has three attributes: they feel emotions quite strongly they induce them in others and they are impervious to the influences of other charismatic people.
Or maybe US business writer Debra Benton, whose book Executive Charisma advises would-be leaders to: be the first to initiate be humorous and hands-on slow down, shut up and listen and stand tall, straight and smile. A sort of Clint Eastwood meets Jack Dee hybrid.
But before you drag your most wooden senior managers into a charisma acquisition workshop bear in mind Wiseman’s estimation that charisma is 50% innate and 50% trained. Which means that 50% plus zero still equals just 50%. In which case a reverse charisma bypass procedure may be essential – pass that on to new England manager Steve McLaren, who appears to have developed Eriksson charisma syndrome by proxy.
Light my fire
There can be few people who are unaware of thecase of the Glasgow firemen who refused to distribute fire safety literature at gay event Pride Scotia, as they didn’t want to compromise their religious or moral beliefs. Or, more likely, didn’t want the mickey taken out of them. Consequently, the Glasgow nine have been told to attend “intensive” diversity training. Some commentators see this as a let-off. They clearly haven’t sat through some of the mind-numbing tendentious tripe often included in this trendy topic.
John Charlton, editor and training manager