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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Charisma, or Whatever

          We owe the concept of sincerity a debt of gratitude for the grim humor it has inspired.
          Here’s a sample:
“It is dangerous to be sincere unless you also are stupid.”
That was among George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims for Revolutionists, back in 1903. Didn’t realize they were quite that vinegary back then, did we?
          And my favorite:
          “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
The genius this time was Jean Giraudoux, a gifted French variant of Shaw who also seems a bit more cynical than we might have expected, this time in the 1930s.

          Check out your own vision of the sincere person. While you chuckle at the cynical side, you do know some decent people who are like this: Serious, humble, humorless, mildly simplistic? Or believable, trustworthy, admirable, perhaps awesome?
You look down on them or you look up to them, but you trust them. You know sincerity when you see it. Or do you?
That summons up the vision of the con man. Or woman. “Con” is short for “confidence.” These are people whose manner and apparent professional success and personal history inspire confidence in their listeners, a mistaken conviction that they should be trusted. You give them a lot of money, or you commit to them in some other serious way.
And you lose everything. Whether they skip town or go to jail, you’re out whatever you invested. And you’ve suffered permanent scars. If sincerity couldn’t be faked, this wouldn’t happen – but it does happen. A lot.

Charisma operates in the same arena of human relationships, but it easily trumps sincerity. You can know someone is unreliable, or even a phony – but if he/she creates that irresistible attraction, you don’t care. You want to be around the person.
There may be a biological component in the phenomenon along with the psychological, and we guess this particular characteristic isn’t an acquired thing. If you have it, you didn’t earn it. If you don’t have it, you just plain don’t.
The question is irrelevant to the rest of us. We want to please whoever it is who emanates the magic pheromone. Remember the unquestioned leaders of the high school “cliques.”?

Believe it or not, this is a problem for the favored one. As a matter of fact, it may be hard for the charismatic person to remain sincere and empathetic over time, however much so that person might have been to start with. When you have charisma, you face a sea of adoring faces wherever you turn. It’s hard to concentrate on doing things well when doing things well patently matters not a fig to everyone around you. They just want to be in your presence.
This precious gift, which I think is random and not even genetic, provides a huge opportunity for leadership. Our personal experience proves this out. Many of the people we admire and have been willing to follow arouse personal affection in us that causes us to want to do what those people want.
Some of them have turned out to justify our commitment. They produced outstanding successes. Others haven’t, and we may or not blame them for the shortfall. But we probably recall them with some affection no matter what.

Anyone required to lead needs to understand this matter.
If you are gifted with the indefinable attraction that gathers people to you, weigh your responsibility carefully. Do your homework. Know how easily you can become a fondly-remembered failure. Fight arrogance.
Before you become really successful, you’ll have to become good. Many of you do. Takes work, and you commit to it. What wonders you can achieve!
The rest of us, the vast majority nakedly dependent upon our ordinary personalities and our efforts, should waste no time envying the lucky ones. They have their own burdens to bear, and while they are working their way through that we can surge into leadership. We do so as we look to our homework, devote ourselves to the tasks at hand and persistently turn out permanent, tangible results.
In the end, the common currency of leadership is trust, that belief you inspire in people that you will indeed get them where they want to go, if they will give you what you ask of them.
You’ve got to be as convincing as the con man and the honest charismatic, but as hardworking as it takes. There is nothing more powerful than an earned history to inspire sustained confidence and longtime  followership.
On a level playing field, confident competence has the hammer, however it came about. Can’t be more sincere than that.

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