A recent article in the Wall Street Journal told the story of Genevieve Jones, a self-proclaimed "dating, party girl," who has become the fashion publicist´s new best friend. Instead of focusing exclusively on well-known celebrities to trot out new handbags, shoes, and dresses, fashion houses are now pinning their hopes on another kind of influential-people who don´t come from anywhere special but have a keen and committed desire to climb to the top.
It takes moxie, energy, an ability to be in the right place at the right time, charisma, and some luck. Good looks can help, too, but even that isn´t necessarily enough to get you through life. So I was reading a letter to the editor in the WSJ from a gentleman named Edward Brown III, who suggested that Ms. Jones, while successful in her efforts to influence, might want to think of another job that might come in handy once all the shoes and jewelry and other bling stop flowing. Brown is chief executive officer of Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute in Atlanta. That´s right, a training ground for learning how to inspire others by being charming. And what´s wrong with that?
A lot of people are successful because of the way they connect with others. Often it´s their ability to listen and get excited about someone else´s ideas. It´s the ability to shake people up and inspire them to get up off their chairs and do something important. It always seems like charismatic individuals have this infinite reservoir of energy, that life itself is all the fuel they need to go nonstop from dawn until dusk. We usually assume charisma is a talent, something you´re born with. But Brown thinks that charisma can be taught. I do, too. But I also suspect that Brown understands that for charisma to last it must be steeped in some substance.
Have you ever studied someone´s behavior, hoping that some of it will rub off so that you, too, can inspire and influence people? Clearly, having people look up to us is appealing, but it also offers us an opportunity. Unfortunately, there are and have been some might charismatic figures around that don´t exactly bring out the best in people. I´m thinking dictators, cult leaders, mean substitute teachers, etc. So there´s a responsibility factor, too. If we´re going to learn how to influence people then we better be darn sure that we´re doing so for the good of society.
So, does Ms. Jones influence people for the good of society? On a very market-oriented level, yes; think of the sales (and resulting salaries for the employees and contract workers for these companies) she might drive because of her photo in which she is sporting a certain handbag or necklace. There´s a classic (can it be classic if the movie is relatively new?) scene in "The Devil Wears Prada" in which the editor-in-chief of Runway Magazine (THE fashion magazine of the times) extols upon her assistant the buying chain of a certain blue sweater. The assistant minimizes the sweater´s importance, but the editor explains to her that the decisions they make in this fancy, schmancy New York office have tremendous impact on the shopping behavior of millions and millions of people (rent the movie when it´s out in DVD and you´ll understand what I´m talking about). It´s quite a lesson in economics. So in addition to simply learning how to influence people we must ask ourselves for what purpose.
Next time: More about charisma