You Don’t Need Charisma to Be an Inspiring Leader

What is Charisma?

Well to those who don’t have it – it is a mystery. To those who have it, it’s hard to put our finger on it. My clients have it, grow it and harvest it. We don’t harvest ego, nor aggrandisement which can sometimes be called charisma, but that’s an old definition. A newer and more appropriate definition of charisma is Vision, Inspiration and Purpose, Innerwealth.

Male or female, musician or business tycoon, vision sets people apart. Some people have fantasies they call those visions but really they are “I wish I was” sort of statements. Vision statements are “I know I am” and “I know what I got and it’s amazing”

That’s what I call humility. Humble enough to realise what we’ve been blessed with and what we haven’t. It’s often wise to recognise that from an early age. I know in China they do DNA tests on kids to save the kid becoming a charisma-less person. A wanna be. In Mao’s last Dancer, a great book, the lead character in this true story gets plucked from a farm and trained to stardom because – he’s got it. If he’d tried to be a race car driver, a business entrepreneur, a doctor, a pilot … he’d have been a charisma free person. Mediocrity loves wanna be people.

So, vision isn’t “I wish I could” or “One day I’ll” – Vision is “you got a talent, you were blessed by creation with a gift, find it, work on it, harvest it and share it.” If it’s sales, sell, if it’s dancing, dance. but please don’t write a vision that, takes your track record as being ordinary at something and suddenly proclaims you are going to be world famous at it, just because you wrote it down. Like “oh, I’m an ordinary employee who never ran a business in my life and now I’m going to be Donald Trump next week.” it’s such a self aggrandisement – Find your talent, work on it. That’s your vision.

What gets in the way of charisma is self aggrandisement. When we think we are what we’re not, we create turtle shells to make it safe. Inside that shell is our mojo. It’s like a race car driver saying “I want to have a family, tour the world in a race car, win the world championship and not have domestic strife.” There’s no humility in that. Humility is “I’ve been blessed with a talent, and I’ll do what I can to express it on the world stage as the fastest driver on earth, and, I’ll suffer whatever it takes to do it.”

Visions don’t come cheap. When we say “I want wealth, career, health, family, relationship, spiritual, social and no cost for success in each – we’re diluting ourselves to be in poverty in all. The key is to say “this is my talent and it’s my duty to harvest it, and, I’ll be balanced in the other areas. That doesn’t mean complying with what others expect in other areas. It means doing your vision and doing your best with the time that’s left.

Inspiration is the route and secret to balance. One minute with your family in a state of balance, absolutely turning up 100% is better than complying with your partner’s expectation to be there whenever he’s away on business – and therefore sacrificing your charisma and vision. Turning up, 110% is loving the moment, every moment, but that doesn’t mean compliance. Inspiration follows vision, not the other way around. Visionary people get happy, but happy people do not get visionary.

Finally, purpose is charisma. If your purpose in life is you, you, you, you (you always includes those who depend on you) then you are going to make decisions and choices based on how things feel, how they impact you. So, that’s lost mojo, lost inspiration, lost vision. If you have to do a hard year to build the vision of your talent in the world and your family life isn’t perfect then you are going to need a purpose bigger than you or you’ll simply be miserable because you won’t feel good about having any discomfort. Purpose gives you some sense of greater meaning to your life and work, beyond how you feel and it gives you permission to make sacrifices.

There are other ways of looking at this topic. Here’s an article from HBR…

There is an article below written by people without Charisma justifying that you don’t need charisma to be an inspiring leader.

https://hbr.org/2015/10/you-dont-need-charisma-to-be-an-inspiring-leader

Virtually every leader wishes they had the power to inspire people to change.  That’s because every leader has experienced times when they have identified a change that had to be made, devised a great strategy for making it happen, but then struggled  to get people moving in the new direction.

The problem is that most leaders believe that in order to inspire other people, they must exude the uncommon charisma of someone like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., or John F. Kennedy. Those inspiring examples don’t feel especially relevant or attainable to leaders who are not trying to build the first iPhone, end racial segregation, or send someone to the moon.  What if you’re just trying to change the way your people handle loans, manage a supply chain, or interact with customers?

There is a simpler way to inspire change.  In recent years, social scientists led by Todd Thrash have demystified the phenomenon of inspiration.  At its core, inspiration is what happens when a person feels stimulated to bring some new idea to life after becoming spontaneously aware of new possibilities.  Bold visions of greatness and charismatic speeches are certainly one way to elicit that feeling.  But a few years ago, we stumbled onto another way.

In a series of field experiments, my colleagues and I at Decision Pulse asked groups of managers across four different companies to anonymously submit changes they had decided to make in response to a larger change initiative. We then asked the managers in each group to view the list of decisions made by their colleagues, and to vote for the decision that had the biggest impact at their respective companies. After our experiments, a clear pattern emerged among the winning decisions.  See if you can spot the winner in this set of choices below from managers at a health insurance company.

Decision A: “I dealt with an employee relations issue through direct coaching and performance management vs. letting that customer service manager ignore the issue.”

Decision B: “I cut out layers of security for the new customer portal because it would make it slower for customers to access.” 

Decision C: “I chose to market the company as the leader of good health not just for the current member, but for everyone.”

All three decisions exemplify sound management and logical thinking.  But decision B overwhelmingly received the most votes from other managers.  In fact, not one of the 19 peer raters in this experiment voted for Decision A or Decision C.  What made Decision B so special?

Decision B contained what I call a “missing puzzle piece.”  In order to make sense of the world around us, our brains treat every situation like it’s a puzzle that must be assembled.  When we piece together a puzzle for “how a microwave works” or “what techie guys do,” our brains store that puzzle in long-term memory.  But these puzzles are fragile. When something unexpected happens, say, if a microwave suddenly makes food colder instead of hotter, or a tech geek intentionally removes layers of data security just to enhance the customer experience, our brain senses that something isn’t right.  The microwave puzzle or the techie guy puzzle is suddenly missing a corner piece.

What happened next is the interesting part. A part of our brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) notifies us of the error.  Not surprisingly, this error makes us uncomfortable.  To protect us from that icky feeling that part of our world no longer makes sense, our brains have developed an instinctive defense mechanism. Instead of trying to replace the missing piece in the “techie guy” puzzle, our brains compensate by reassembling new, unrelated puzzles.

Researchers Travis Proulx and Stephen Heine have shown repeatedly that even tiny disruptions to a relatively unimportant puzzle like “how a microwave works,” can stimulate our brain’s ability to spot new patterns and see new possibilities in other areas. For example, when your microwave unexpectedly chills food instead of heating it, it can inspire a revelation about your marriage or your job or even your political views.

What Proulx and Heine discovered is that a missing puzzle piece not only makes us more motivated to see new possibilities, it makes us more skilled at seeing new connections and possibilities.  (Perhaps that’s why periods of intense creativity occur so often during the most tumultuous periods of an artist’s life?)

This phenomenon is exactly what we saw in our field studies.  Prior to the first round of voting on their peers’ decisions, many managers said something  like “I don’t really see anything I can change.  I’m just in finance,” or “I’m out in the field, and that’s more of a corporate change so…”  In other words “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

But then after seeing the techie guy reduce data security or discovering that a plant manager deprioritized plant productivity improvements just to increase supply chain efficiency, the other managers in the group suddenly became aware of new possibilities for change in their own areas of work.

Over the next two rounds of  experiments,  almost all of the other managers in each group began making legitimate and creative change decisions.  They saw new possibilities and started acting on them.  Put simply, they were inspired to change.

That inspiration didn’t come from big, hairy, audacious goals, lofty visions of the future, charismatic speeches, or demonstrations of their leaders’ innate genius or passion.  All that it required was an awareness of someone else’s unexpected decision to cut back on an old thing in order to do a new thing.  That is something every manager in every situation is capable of doing.

A decision to cancel football for a year is how one high school principal inspired a Texas town to get creative about saving its school.  The decision to temporarily remove breakfast sandwiches from Starbucks stores is how Howard Schultz inspired employees to refocus on coffee.  A decision to kill the cutting edge “Newton” PDA in 1996 is how Steve Jobs inspired Apple’s engineers to begin thinking differently on their way to one of the most innovative product development runs in history.

What this all means is that change agents don’t have to be brilliant or charismatic in order to inspire change.  If you can make a decision, you can inspire change.