Spurring leadership with the allure of charisma

Charisma is a necessary if not sufficient ingredient for success in public life.  When present it is often touted as the reason for success often obscuring the gross harm wrought by innumerable political leaders with an abundance of the quality. A recent column in Australia's Melbourne Age newspaper even notes how it is an "over-rated leadership attribute".

But emerging as a relatively new trend is a move that seeks to foster the trait among corporate executives for more effective leadership. While there have been countless charismatic CEOs ranging from the spectacularly successful to abysmal failures, the idea of infusing the attribute as a human resources developmental tool is something that has remained largely untried thusfar.

The UK's Financial TImes has an insightful story headlined "The subtle secrets of charisma". The FT notes how some corporations "are working on practising a personal charisma regime" and cites one developed by Indian IT giant, Infosys. The charisma training regime is based, in part, on work by academics at the University of Lausanne.

The Swiss based academics "identified a dozen communication habits, rooted in the principles of classic rhetoric, that make a speaker appear more authoritative, trustworthy and persuasive." All characteristics found in "natural" leaders.  The program uses a mix of verbal and non- verbal methods to impart "charisma"   Verbal methods use "metaphors and easy-to-remember three-part lists; telling stories; drawing vivid contrasts; asking rhetorical questions; expressing moral conviction; reflecting an audience‚Äôs sentiments; and setting high but achievable goals." Non-verbal inputs include "raising and lowering one's voice, letting one's feelings show in face and hand gestures to reinforce what is said."

Much of the foregoing appears to run counter to received wisdom in human resource circles where group and team endeavors are favored for developing management depth rather than highlighting the role of "stars". Nevertheless, its proponents point to the many benefits accruing from a "learned" approach to developing charisma.

Among the attributes imparted are the ability to communicate in simple but effective sentences shorn of bombast or complicated rhetoric. As an example, a corporate leader who dropped "business speak" for plain English to achieve materially better results than a peer group is cited by the FT. As the example of Infosys showed, wen applied consistently and with sincerity it is a formula that appears to engender better leadership and employee engagement. 




Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.