Magnetic flux: Richard Reid explains how you can improve your charisma--and how to deal with the more frustrating aspects of working with a charismatic boss.

Author:Reid, Richard
Position:Career development

The concept of charisma as an actual personality trait was first proposed in the early 20th century by a German sociologist called Max Weber. As the varied and often heated responses to Weber's work indicate, the term is difficult to define. It tends to mean different things to different people, but, despite this, someone who is referred to as "charismatic" is generally viewed as a particularly persuasive and influential person who commands our attention.

Indeed, charisma is often regarded as a magnetic or even quasi-supernatural trait. When people associate with an especially charismatic individual, they can experience a level of well-being and security that prompts them to follow that person into "challenging" situations. You only need to look back 70 years to the time of Nazi Germany to see that, when charismatic visionaries are indulged to excess, it can lead to disaster.

Despite this caveat, charisma can play an enormous part in helping a business to achieve success. A few years ago the business culture was very much geared towards finding individuals who would fit seamlessly within a traditional corporate culture. But in today's uncertain economic climate companies are seeking leaders who inspire confidence both inside and outside the organisation. In effect, those leaders are being challenged to create cultures based on new values and ethics that must resonate with their target audiences.

A 2001 research report entitled "Does leadership matter? CEO leadership attributes and profitability under conditions of perceived environmental uncertainty" ( dfw4t) concluded that it was advantageous for companies to "hire a CEO who is very charismatic rather than one who is excellent at managing operations but who has little charisma--but only when the company is operating under uncertain conditions. Otherwise, they get equal value for money."

So, while charismatic leadership may not be crucial, it can be particularly helpful to a company in times of uncertainty. A charismatic leader can act as a focal point, energising projects and galvanising support when the going gets tough.

To gain a sense of how charisma can convey confidence and give comfort to employees, consumers and investors, consider the success attained by Sir Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of the Virgin Group. In many ways Branson personifies the brand. Although he is approaching 60 and Virgin is in its fourth decade of business, both portray an image of energy and initiative....

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