There’re 50 people in the room, all anonymous, more or less, milling around, sipping drinks, chatting. There’s a stir at the door. All heads turn. And there he is. Shaking hands, smiling, calling people by name. He seems taller than everyone else and better looking. Well-dressed, for sure. He makes his way across the room and he’s the center of attention and you see why he’s a Senator. He just has that quality. One of the few blessed with charisma. A born leader.
Maybe. But are leaders really born or are they made?
Let’s start with the fact that leadership is not binary. There are different kinds of leadership and different levels of leadership. Bridgette is a better leader than Antonio, but Victoria is a much better leader than either of them.
An article in Forbes identified eight essential qualities that define great leadership.
- Sincere enthusiasm
- Great communication skills
- Managerial competence
The first seven are qualities that can be learned, practiced or otherwise developed. Then there’s number eight.
Charisma – that indefinable quality that makes someone stand out from the crowd, that makes you like them without even knowing them. Either you’ve got it or you don’t.
Not so fast. Let’s take a closer look at the Senator.
First, he smiles. Maybe that come naturally to the Senator. It probably does. But that doesn’t mean that someone who is not a natural smiler (like me) can’t learn to smile more and raise his warmth quotient.
The Senator is friendly and outgoing. Again, it’s probably his nature. Can a person learn to be more outgoing and friendly? Of course. Can you learn to remember peoples’ names? Yes, Nicole, you can.
The Senator is tall and good looking. But when he gets closer to you, you realize that he’s just average height. And his good looks? His features are really kind of bland. Nothing special. But there is something attractive about him. Maybe because he’s always smiling. Maybe the way he carries himself. Head up, shoulders back, eyes forward.
And so on.
Charisma is not something that is oozed through the pores of the charismatic. It’s a perceived quality. We see someone, and based on what we see and how she interacts with us, we say she’s got it. Or if he never smiles, can’t remember our name, walks with his head down, and never looks to engage, we’re likely to think he’s a dud.
To be sure, some folks are born with naturally friendly inclinations and maybe slightly better looks, but so much of what people think of us is what we project.
Experiment: Next time you’re in the supermarket, play the role. Walk confidently. Shoulders back. Head up. Smile, even at people you don’t know. You’ll see. You can learn charisma.