Three R’s for Developing Charisma

With the release of the July/August issue of Scientific American Mind, I once again have some found some great articles that I just have to write about.  This article is entitled, “In Search of Charisma” by Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher.

I’ve always thought of charisma as something that was just a part of a person’s personality.  It just seemed to be this magic quality that a person either had or didn’t.  I probably think this because culturally that is what we’ve been taught to think.  Apparently Max Weber, a german sociologist, popularized the term “charisma” and described it as,

“A certain quality of an individual personality by which [a leader] is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with superhuman or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.  These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary…as resting on magic powers.”

What is interesting about the science in this article is that research suggests that charisma is not something inherent in a person so much as it is a social process wherein followers attribute a person with charisma.  A person is most likely to be attributed with charisma when they are perceived as a winner (successful), as representative of the group (being prototypical), and as being for the group (as one of “us”).

What all of this means is that,

“Charisma is not something we possess or lack.  Rather it is something we can actively construct. Successful leaders craft narratives of themselves…successful narratives of identity unfold as revelations [to their groups] not as edicts…[you must] lead the audience to draw the conclusions one desires rather than having to spell out those ideas for them.  The art of charisma, then, is to appear artless.”

In other words, you have to carefully craft an image of yourself within the group that you are trying to appeal to in order to seem both of and for the group.  This comes with some caveats however.  You must be seen as genuine and the impression you make on others must come as an unfolding revelation for them, you cannot just tell everyone that you are great and charismatic.

“A leader’s success is measured by how well that person pursues the top priorities of the group…a person who shines with charisma will also help shape those criteria and mobilize people in their favor.”

So, in order to gain charisma you can use the three Rs of effective leadership:

1.  Reflecting – learn about the culture and history of the group.

2. Representing – become both a member and proponent of the group.

3. Realizing – turn the principles and goals of the group into realities.