Fighting Fire with Fire: Can true charisma extinguish false populism?
So the Donald Trump era has ended. Not with a bang or a whimper, but an angry snarl and a graceless "concession-without conceding" tweet. And if the President’s chief [ more » ]
What is it that confers on some people the capacity to influence others, ensuring that their willpower or idea will prevail – often in the unlikeliest circumstances?
Ali Baba’s Jack Ma – pictured above – was rejected by schools, by local universities, by the Chinese police, even by Kentucky Fried Chicken, and later by Harvard University, before his well-deserved moment of fame and fortune arrived.
Such people aren’t always the best at framing or winning arguments; they may not be the best trained at business schools; might not be the most original, or even the most charming or sympathetic. Yet they end up transforming the way other people think and influencing outcomes in their favour. This is how some people “make the weather,” in the process manufacturing their own luck. It’s also called success.
There is a feedback mechanism at work here, for it is only when we, the listeners, confer certain favours upon such lucky people, that they gain power over us. The attribute these people have is called charisma. It is visible both among individuals and among institutions and companies – where it is defined as ‘Brand Strength.’
There is nothing in the technical specifications of the iPhone smartphone that a Samsung handset cannot do equally well – yet the Apple product has iconic status. In the world of off-road travel, the same still holds true with Land Rover vehicles of British origin, as compared to their Japanese counterparts.
In the world of finance, it’s a commonplace that investors don’t just want ‘Steak’ – the empirical proof of economic outperformance. They want ‘Sizzle’ too, in the shape of a narrative with exciting prospects of future growth. For a tiny handful of companies, there’s something that goes way beyond Steak or Sizzle – let’s call it the “Ooh-La-La” of investing.
Amazon acquired it when Jeff Bezos labelled his company a “permanent start-up,” advising widows and orphans not to buy stock because the investment ride would be too exciting for them. Ali-Baba acquired it with Jack Ma began explaining his vision of a global marketplace based on public trust, and demonstrating his extraordinary resilience, which included surviving 10 rejections by Harvard.
These “top of pyramid” examples of “Corporate Charisma” in action, show how both individuals and their companies exert an extraordinary effect over customers, markets and investors. The principle that underlies such successes might seem wholly unattainable for the rest of us. Yet the truth is that the founders of Amazon, Ali Baba and others simply applied their “Ooh-La-La” over a 20-year period to transform the prospects for their businesses. The result is history.
New examples keep popping up all the time. The latest figure to demonstrate the disruptive power of charisma in communication is the new Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Greek premier Alexis Tsipras and his newly-victorious Syriza party may set the broad tone for the emerging ‘David and Goliath’ narrative of tiny, indebted and undisciplined Greece standing up to the grim-faced money men of the European Commission. But the real negotiation and the opinion formation rest entirely upon the shoulders of Yanis Varoufakis – the new Bruce Willis on the international news circuit.
With an astonishingly assured performance for a man in office less than a week, Varoufakis used a live TV broadcast on the BBC to set out in layman’s terms his country’s plight, to show his mastery of the situation, and to expose the BBC anchor’s arrogance and incompetence – all with charm and consideration. His stunning media performances leverage Greece’s nimble strength against the ungainly might of the financial system’s Troika.
If Malcolm Gladwell is right with his “large vs. small” theories, then tiny, undisciplined Greece could soon deliver a shock to Goliath-like and seemingly immobile Angela Merkel of Germany. Amazingly, Varoufakis has questioned the right of mighty “Troika” inspectors to patrol the Greek economy – and has been mobbed by an enthusiastic crowd of hedge-fund managers at a swanky London hotel, according to the BBC’s Economics Editor. All the while telling them Greece hasn’t got a cent.
Now that’s pure charisma.
These are just a few examples of what we already know: the race is not always to the swiftest with an Excel spreadsheet, the brightest with the Business Model Canvas, or the most adept in delivering PowerPoint presentations. Something else defines success.
The truth is that management – and indeed the social progress from infancy to retirement we call life – is mostly about effective communication and influencing others. Above all, it is about the ability to tell “The History of the Future” – to envision a desired set of over-the-horizon outcomes, and then to explain how these will be achieved, step-by-step. And then get other people to deliver these outcomes.
Those who can tell “The History of the Future” in chunks that are sufficiently engaging and achievable, will persuade those around them to go out and build the future outlined by a person they will start calling their leader.
“Future Guidance” isn’t just a technical term used by CFOs to give brokers’ analysts an alluring peek of the next quarter’s numbers in language that’s permitted by stock market regulators. Future Guidance is what the leadership storytelling of Jack Ma and Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook is all about. Future Guidance is charisma-in-action.
But, to deliver Future Guidance, you need “Ooh-La-La.” It’s tempting to think that these skills are reserved for a few superstars like Bezos and there is nothing we can do about it.
But we can do quite a lot, actually. Just as star athletes are really individuals like us who have developed and trained their physique and coordination to an extraordinary degree, so “charismatic” leaders are simply people who have developed this special kind of musculature. Some are lucky. Most have worked hard.
In the same way that most of us go to the fitness academy to retain a basic level of health yet are unlikely to train to a level much higher than that which stops us having heart attacks or getting diabetes, so our communication skills can get stuck at a level of proficiency that allows us to “muddle through” despite an accumulation of bad habits in daily interactions.
Yet we can choose to change all this. Mapping, measuring and managing those communication attributes we possess is the way to reveal the hidden “Ooh-La-La” factor that each person possesses.
Communicate Charisma has developed a methodology to democratize access to charisma and to allow individuals to embark on a personal journey of development. Each individual’s charisma assets are shown in intuitive, easy-to-grasp visual formats.
If you’ve read this far, we hope you’ll be curious enough to explore our site and find out how we do it – and how you can express interest in joining a Communicate Charisma One Day Workshop.
At Communicate Charisma we teach people how to become more engaging and effective communicators. In our Charisma Dimensions workshops, we use practical exercises coupled with our bespoke self-awareness tools to allow participants to understand and experience the impact of individual personality traits on how we are perceived by others. Together, we use these insights to develop a more effective and authentic personal style, and so raise our power of influence and communications mastery.
Find out more about our workshops.