I keep getting asked this question, so I think it is worthy of revisiting a previous post on the subject.

I think NOT!  I have had experience with people who had little, if any, charisma and yet were superb leaders.  I have also had experience with people who had tremendous charisma but were awful leaders.

Is charisma an essential leadership skill?  Absolutely not.

I have never heard a person say that charisma was the main skill they relied upon to successfully lead a company…EVER!

There are many leadership skills which can be learned…in fact, most.  If you look through the literature on leadership you will find that most of the books are listings of skills which have worked for someone at some point in time or some situation.  Any one of those skills can be learned or developed.

Can charisma help?  I guess so.  It really depends on what is meant by charisma?  That, in and of itself, spawns quite a debate.

Wikipedia describes it as “a trait found in persons with a facile personality, characterized by personal charm, along with innate and powerfully sophisticated abilities of interpersonal communication and persuasion. One who is charismatic is said to be capable of using their personal being, rather than just speech or logic alone, to interface with other human beings in a personal and direct manner, and effectively communicate an argument or concept to them.”

If you look at that definition of charisma, you will see that most of the elements in THIS definition are skills or attributes that can be learned or developed…communication, persuasion, speech, logic, directness.

I think that charisma is one element of many that CAN help make a person an effective leader.  However, I believe it is a nice to have.  I believe it can make a good leader a great leader, but it is not a requirement to be either a good leader or a great leader.  Further, without any other skills, charisma alone will not make a person a successful leader.  I think it is interesting to note that no successful leader has ever cited charisma as the skill they relied upon to successfully lead a company.

I think charisma refers to an ability to connect with other people…to relate to them.  If that is true, then I also think that some of the fundamental elements of charisma can be learned.  Think about it.  What does it take to connect with other people?

  • truly listening to what someone says (putting aside all other distractions and being totally engaged)
  • respecting and valuing their opinion (requires being open-minded and perhaps puttings one’s own ego aside!)
  • empathizing with what they are saying (caring? how often do we really do that, especially in a business situation?)
  • responding in a supportive way (again, how often do we do that in a business situation?)
  • doing what you say you will do (walking the talk…actions speaking louder than words)

Charisma is often described as hard to define, and I agree, as I am sure you do.  Is it an essential skill?  No way!

I would love to hear your thoughts about this since I am sure the debate will continue to rage in my fall programs.