With the Labour Party Conference being in held in Liverpool Ed Miliband’s leadership has come under the media spotlight, with questions being asked about his ability to successfully lead his party into the next election. One of the criticisms levelled at him has been that he has been largely anonymous in his first year as leader of the Labour Party with him lacking the charisma to make an impact on a largely unimpressed public.
As a result of this media debate I was invited to take part in a radio discussion on the importance of charisma and if it was something that could be taught.
When canvassing opinion prior to the radio discussion people had differing opinions on exactly what Charisma is and whether someone could learn this “natural skill”.
One common theme that did emerge was that in order to be charismatic people needed to be in tune with their thoughts and feelings and to behave in a genuine and authentic manner. Trying to fake it would not work as others would see through it and the individual would be viewed with suspicion and not be trusted.
Charisma is defined as a personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people, and is certainly an attribute of value to a Politician in an age of celebrity and media sound bites. Does it matter to the rest of us?
In sales there is a well worn cliche that “people buy people first” and I think this holds true in many situations. For example I was working with the directors of a kitchen company who were surprised to land an order where the customer knew that they could buy a very similar kitchen for £2000 less from a competitor. The customers explained that they were happy to spend the extra money as they felt they could trust my clients to deliver on the promises made and believed the end result would be better for them. They didn’t feel the same level of belief in the quality of service that would be provided by the competition.
They had not dealt with either company before so why should that be?
I think the answer lies in the relationship developed between my clients and their customer. The Director of the company that dealt with the enquiry is very passionate about the work they do, he has a good grasp of what is important to his potential customers and is confident that his company can meet those needs. He believes in providing a service he can be proud of. Allied to these values is a personable nature that enables him to talk to people in a friendly approachable manner, explaining the process without using jargon. Because he talks at the same level as his customers they pay attention to what he says and are therefore in a position to make a logical decision as to whether to use his services.
Many people think charisma is an innate ability and therefore can’t be taught, and there are some aspects of charisma where this might be true. However if you break down the qualities that make up charisma these are areas that can be worked on and improved:
1) Being genuine – say what you mean and mean what you say. Keep your message simple, be clear and articulate, don’t just echo the status quo, dare to be different.
2) Understand who you are and what you stand for – what are your values? What are the standards that are important to you?
3) Understanding the needs of others – how often do you actively listen to what other people say, rather than wait for them to stop talking so you can talk some more? If you show interest in others, they will be interested in what you have to say. Smile, nod when they talk and maintain eye contact. This is one way Bill Clinton used to make people feel as though “they were the only person in the room”.
4) Emotional Control – keeping yourself on an even keel allows you to be seen as approachable, but you also need to be able to express your thoughts and feelings in a spontaneous and genuine manner.
5) Think about your body language – stand up straight, relax, smile, think positive thoughts – how many charismatic people do you know that are miserable, sullen, look fed up and are negative?
The above isn’t a comprehensive list of qualities, but if you were able to master these you will find that you are more confident in yourself, more relaxed and more fun to be with!
Think about the people who you find charismatic, what do they do that makes them stand out from the crowd?
Why not post a comment here about who you think has charisma and what qualities they demonstrate?