If you read history, you know that Winston Churchill had it. So did FDR. Clinton did, too. What is it? It’s the “it” factor—charisma. Charisma is the ability to make people feel better about themselves after they listen to you. Churchill said, “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.” That’s one charismatic guy describing another. It wouldn’t hurt women to be a little charismatic at work.
Here’s how charisma starts. Charisma starts when people like you. It seems like ancient history now, but can you remember the early Democratic primaries when Obama pledged to avoid negative campaigning? He seemed like such a nice guy. He wouldn’t take the bait of racial attacks and stereotyping. He wouldn’t take offense at people calling him by his complete name, Barack Hussain Obama. That’s a guy who is making the decision to be gracious.
Did you catch his recent appearance on the television show, Last Comic Standing? McCain and Obama each taped a segment that was supposed to be funny. Obama read his lines and the camera kept rolling after he was done. Now I know why they showed the entire piece. You heard someone in the background asking him to do it again. Obama abruptly walks off camera and firmly announces something like, “That’s it guys. I’m done. It won’t get any better.” No more Mr. Nice Guy. Instead, to me it sounded like the Audacity of Nope! Now when I look at Obama, I wonder which one the American public is getting—the nice guy or the not so nice Obama. Nice guy is charismatic. In your face is Donald Trump, a man who would hardly be described as charismatic.
They play nice. Charismatic people play nicely with others. What do I mean? They don’t play hard ball even when they can. Churchill’s daughter, Lady Soames, said of her father, “He always regarded himself as a servant of Parliament, and I don’t think there is a recorded instance of his having gone against the decisions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He wished to demonstrate to the world that this was a war waged by a democratic country, and that he was empowered by the democratic vote even at the height of the war.” Did you read the recent Wall Street Journal article “Obama Played by Chicago Rules” which talks about how he won his first Chicago election? Here’s how he did it. His campaigners began challenging thousands of petition signatures the other candidates in the race had submitted in order to appear on the ballot. These challenges were all legal challenges. But here’s what they were challenging—printing instead of writing a name, a female voter got married after she registered to vote and signed her maiden name, registered voters signed the petitions but didn’t live in the 13th district. Sounds like hard ball to me. You lose charisma when play that way.
I see people in business get what they want by walking over other people—and worse. It doesn’t have to be that way. The most charismatic boss I knew announced at his first team meeting that he didn’t have all the answers, he knew he wanted a strong, empowered team and he was willing to work hard and help us achieve our goals. He said, “I know you may have heard this from others before. Call my previous direct reports and ask them if it’s true.” We never did. Every word he said was true. Now that’s charisma.