If you’ve ever been in a room with someone and found yourself wanting to be around the person more, to hear more of what the individual was saying, thinking or doing, chances are you have been in the company of someone with charisma.
If you analyze your experience working with different leaders, surely you can pinpoint at least one, possibly more, leaders who were charismatic.
You may not be able to describe charisma precisely, but you likely know it when you see it. Charisma is a compelling charm or inviting persona that can inspire the commitment and devotion of others. It is a mysterious attraction that is challenging to quantify but highly difficult to resist.
The premise of charismatic leadership is to tap into a leader’s charisma. Charismatic leadership is a leadership style that utilizes a leader’s authenticity, communications prowess and inspiration to pull out the best in others. While some leaders believe the key to getting their teams to perform is by offering consistent feedback or putting them through one training after another, charismatic leaders believe that they are the key to improved performance. They believe that people respond well to their example and inspiration. No one does this better than leaders with charisma.
Charismatic leaders are like magnets – they draw people to them and bring out the best of those around them. Charismatic leaders have an inviting personality, a depth of wisdom and a command of language that makes their communication like a mouth-watering appetizer: It leaves diners wanting more.
Charismatic leadership is a tool in a leader’s arsenal. For some people, it is naturally the first tool they reach for. Those leaders may be charismatic without effort, and they tend to find themselves relying on this resource often. Others may have the ability to rise to the occasion and showcase charismatic leadership, though it may not be their first instinct. For other executives, charismatic leadership takes effort and intention.
Enough with the suspense already: What are the key traits of charismatic leadership?
Here are five key identifiers you’ll find in charismatic leadership:
1. Charismatic Leadership Is Uplifting
Charismatic leaders are uplifting. They can walk into a storm and spot the rainbow on the other side. They can sit amid chaos yet be completely assured that all will be well.
If a person is experiencing a whirlwind of emotions and engages with a charismatic leader, the individual will leave with a sense of calm. Charismatic leaders see the trouble, but they perceive opportunity. Their perspective is uplifting, and their optimism is contagious.
For instance, I was helping to manage a leadership transition at an organization that was planned yet stressful. The new leader inherited a new company and lots of unexpected challenges. There was tension throughout the senior staff, and that unease was palpable among the staff. Despite the challenges, the executive was filled with hope and communicated that hope consistently and persuasively. The minute the leader walked into the room and began to speak, staff members were able to see possibility.
2. Charismatic Leadership Is Marked by Communications Prowess
One of charismatic leaders’ most defining traits is oral communication. Charismatic leaders are gifted communicators. Their words are seasoned with grace, their message carefully tailored to the audience, and their selection of examples reflect a surgeon’s precision.
When I think of the charismatic leaders whom I’ve known in my lifetime, few are more defining than the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.
When I met Rev. Dr. Barber in spring 2016, I had already experienced my fair share of union protests and thought I knew everything I needed to know about organizing resistance movements; I’d already spent most of my life in the evangelical church, so I was quite familiar with meeting pastors and leaders who could rouse a sleeping audience to full-scale hysteria.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the leader I encountered. Rev. Dr. Barber had a theological perspective that welcomed all, not in a shallow “we shall all overcome” manner, but in a reflective manner. He was the first faith leader I had met who merged his faith with his religion. As a long-time communicator, I’d warn him that the place to deliver sermons was in the pulpit, not in front of editorial boards or in the presence of media. He talked about a moral fusion movement and about making decisions that reflected our deepest moral and constitutional values.
It’s been six years since that initial meeting, and his star has continued to rise. He’s published two books and will soon release a third. He has been recognized as a MacArthur Genius, and he’s a senior lecturer at Union Theological Seminary. He is invited to communities and into moral fights all over the world because of his vision, his work and his ability to relate to people from all walks of life.