Radhakrishnan B. Menon is the founder, MD of LBW Consulting Pvt. Ltd., a Leadership Development Consulting firm
I vividly recall those early years of my career when I used to be bowled over by charismatic leaders in the corporate world. These leaders exuded an aura and appeal that captivated people around them. Over the years, as an HR professional involved in selection and development of Leaders in organisations, I began to notice that “charisma” is perhaps an exaggerated factor. Is it?
There is much more to Leaders than celluloid looks, appearance, charm or other personality factors. Perhaps charisma may be defined or perceived differently in the political, social, religious, spiritual or sports arena. I address this subject purely from a corporate perspective.
Lexicographically, charisma reads “personal magnetism or charm, the quality or power of an individual to attract, influence or inspire people... a personal magic of leadership...”
The layman understands charisma as “possessing an extraordinary ability to attract”, a “personal charm” or a “magnetic personality”. The list is endless.
A successful Leader possesses “presence” and “impact”. The presence may come through the personality – appearance, demeanour, voice, speech and maybe charm or charisma.
Impact is more an off shoot of character. It adds to the presence or maybe, makes up for the lack of it. How does this impact manifest in a Leader?
Without harping on leadership capabilities, values and skills, let me dwell on the aspect of “impact” in terms of its attributes, styles and behaviours.
Emotional Maturity: High self-confidence, positive thinking, mental strength and an innate capacity to empathise with others are typical characteristics of an emotionally strong leader. Emotionally mature leaders essentially have a high EQ. They take their decisions about themselves and their colleagues based on balanced views and insights, not on impulses. Thus, they are able to resolve conflicts, connect with individuals and energise teams to collaborate. No better example of the “ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.
Imagination: Creative juices flow in these leaders and imagination is an innate ability. It is apparent in whatever they do, be it creating a vision, making a business plan, driving innovation or even addressing a town hall meeting – they spread ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Imaginative leaders are original; they always see the unobvious and look at any situation from a different point of view. They bring in a reality check, exercise a powerful influence on their teams and are able to explore the past and future. By using the creative power of mind, the leader is able to deal with the unexpected and resort to creative solutions.
Intuition: It is but natural that these leaders tend to rely on intuition or ‘gut feel’. Instinctive knowledge and beliefs provide them better awareness and they make quick decisions which can create huge impact to people and business. Be it reading the market, understanding the customer, choosing alternative strategies or selecting talent, intuition comes into play. No doubt, one maybe error prone but experiences enable them to make winning choices. In reality, rational thinking coupled with intuitive decision making can be best combined in today’s complex environment.
Expression: The impact leaders may not be the best of orators or presenters but they are able to express themselves in a powerful and enabling manner – they “connect” instantaneously. This comes from a natural tendency and ability to share – be it vision, values or goals. Active listeners, they speak from the heart and are able to demonstrate values in action by their own conduct, behaviour and relationships. Simplicity of words and passion behind the voice are testimonies to how much they care and feel. They speak clearly and succinctly, avoiding rambling and jargon, brevity is truly their soul.
Excitement: The Leader conveys excitement to his team through “youthful” energy, infectious enthusiasm and a spirit of adventure. He or she demonstrates a sense of mission almost on a daily basis and provides the right setting for people to do the extra mile. Readiness to share success and own up mistakes on the leader’s part further excite and create high performing teams.
Gravitas: I know of several charismatic leaders who were not able to pull it off because they lacked “gravitas”. The Romans called it gravitas – it stood for dignity and seriousness. Leaders not only have to look the part they need to act the part. Only then you are able to command respect and gain acceptability. Basically, it is a foundational virtue and you know it when you see it!
In the light of the above, it is apparent that it is the impact of a leader that is more significant than personality factors. Presence or charisma is what people know about you after they have met you a few times, impact is what they know about you after knowing you or working with you for years. Charisma is perhaps a bit superficial and short term, but impact reflects character and is much more profound.
Leaders with this mixed blessing are the perfect answer, but they are hard to find, is it not?