The Webster Dictionary defines charisma as compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others or a divinely conferred power or talent. It’s derivation is the Greek word charis, meaning favor, grace, beauty, kindness.
Historian James MacGregor Burns in his book Leadership (Harper Collins-1978-p. 243-4) talks about the nature of 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 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.”
A universal energy is evident in what we call charisma. 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 John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton 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.
Certainly qualities like pulchritude, eloquence, and style are a help in enhancing charisma, but not at all its essence. It’s 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 huge risks and many fail. (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 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 is one of passion and verity.
I see the entrepreneurial salesman’s chief task to be to connect in the sales process to the simple truth of the product or service he sells. The great 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.
Or, as 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.