Leaders have Charisma

Why talk about something such as charisma? Is this not that magical competence reserved for those few of society who were born as these flamboyant leaders? I think not.

After reflecting on the situation in South Africa, I asked myself what made leaders such as Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, and others, so successful. Come on, let’s face it! When we compare them against some of our current leaders, the incumbents do not look good at all!

Whilst working in the Maxwell Leadership Bible, I picked up the following thoughts by John Maxwell on the traits of a charismatic leader. They are quite profound, yet simple; comprehensive, yet clear. And looking at them, they are not just reserved for those special individuals that society delivers once in a while!

So, I would like to share these traits, after adding a few of my own thoughts.

The first trait deals with having confidence. This was about having poise and optimism. It was about being graceful and elegant. Having a sense of optimism that the present and future will work out. It is about knowing that you can do whatever is required, or knowing how to deal with issues that you cannot deal with on your own. Nobody expects a leader to know everything, but they do expect the leader to know how to deal with issues that they do not know everything about. They do expect the leader to be willing and courageous to admit that they do not have all the knowledge.

The second trait deals with conviction: knowing where you are going and what you have to say. Having the ability to speak from the heart, and saying it with sincerity. Conviction also means you know what you are about, and that you stick to your guns. Your convictions help you make values-driven decisions in the face of adversity. Providing a vision and direction is crucial! So is being honest and having integrity. Much easier said than done! It is so much safer to not rock the boat, to do nothing when others act in ways that go against what we all stand for. It requires courage to do that, and the willingness to accept pushback from those whom you oppose!

The third trait is about connection. It is about being focused on others, be being connected with your audience. It is about having a network of people who trust you, that you can reach out to. It requires you to manage this network, to keep it intact, but in a way that does not seem mercenary! It is also not just about maintaining your network, but also about growing it. It requires you to be genuinely interested in people, to not only obtain energy from them, but also to impart energy to them. It is also about empowering people you connect with! And being trustworthy!

The fourth trait is about compassion. This is about exuding warmth and love. It is about having empathy, being emotionally intelligent and reaching out to people. It is also about being willing to listen to others with your soul, to understand their pain and their troubles. And to speak from your heart!

Maxwell also provides guidelines on how to build charisma.

Firstly he states that you need to love life, to celebrate it and to enjoy the journey. Life is a process and not a destination. Embrace the journey, warts and all. Learn from it, and grow and develop from your experiences. Wake up in the morning and seize the day! Understand that you will fail from time to time, but as someone said, fail small, fail fast, fail cheaply, and grow from the learnings!

Secondly, expect the best of people and treat them well. Challenge them to be the best they can be. Teach and help them to not accept being less than they can be; to be the best person they can be. Also treat people in ways that grow them and demonstrate respect towards them. Honour them in ways that grow their self-esteem. Empower them and energize them. Hold them to their commitments and develop their sense of keeping their end of the bargain. We need to deliver on the expectations created!

Giving people hope is the third guideline. People want to know there is a better future for them, that there is an answer to the problem on hand, that there is a solution for the current dilemma. It does not mean that the leader should give false hope, as they will lose credibility when people understand that have been led up the garden path. It is important to understand the situation and to be realistic about it. But it is also important to provide hope as well. Perceived hopeless situations are not conducive to the general wellbeing of societies. Hope is what people want, and need!

Finally, leaders share themselves. They are vulnerable and real, and share their hearts, wisdom and resources. It requires leaders to let down their defences and let others come close to them. They need to be authentic, the real thing, and they need to be truthful about all things. Any sign of falsehood will create pushback and leave the leader isolated. They mentor and coach others, providing guidance when asked, without imposing their will. The needs of others are the guiding factor.

Looking again at my examples of charismatic leaders, and listening in my mind to my good friend, Christo Nel, my understanding is that we are not born as charismatic leaders, but that we develop the skills. It is also not just about being rah-rah leaders, but about being authentic and real. So, we can be quite and still be charismatic. Jim Collins also states this quite eloquently in his book, Good to Great! We need to be authentic and true to ourselves and others!

It is also important to understand that having charisma is about being the whole package. It is not sufficient, for example, to have a lot of confidence. The end result could be disastrous! History has sufficient examples of such leaders. We do need to be cautious about people who only have this trait, as they can easily lead a nation astray. Wouldn’t this understanding help us to get rid of those who do not meet the requirements, who fall short of expectations, and who are in it for themselves?

What do we need in this beautiful and great country of ours? Leaders with charisma, leaders that can lead us to unlock and fulfil our potential, to live in harmony, to be the greatest we can be! It is now time to stand up and be counted. If we all develop the charisma within us, we will be a nation of leaders! And we can! It just takes a decision and a resolve!

Wouldn’t that be great?!

And sitting here writing this article, my mind jumps to my MBA students of the past 16 years at the USB. You have so much potential. I see the essence of the above in so many of you! Be the best you can be! You owe it to yourself and to society! Don’t sit back just to have regrets 20 years from now!

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