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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Charisma: your inspirational presence

As part of my Leadership coaching, I am increasingly being asked to teach Leadership Presence and Personal Impact, both for in-person and for on-screen audiences.

Leadership Presence is the integration of integrity, passion and charisma. The first two have always been clear to me. Integrity is core to authentic leadership: it is the essence of who we are, our vision and values and this consequent gravitas creates trust, respect and great loyalty in our followership.

If the essence of leadership is establishing loyalty, the key task of a leader is to bring hope, the promise of a better future leading us out of times of adversity and onto even greater success. This includes our strategic vision of course, but it is also about our passion and positive energy, motivating and encouraging others to stretch to their highest potential. And this is perhaps the greatest challenge for the individual and for the leader: we cannot inspire others authentically i.e., with integrity, if we are not feeling inspired and full of hope ourselves.

Look at ‘My Tree of 3 Commitments’ above. I call the question ‘What makes my heart sing?’ the most dangerous question in the world. It’s a beautiful question in itself as it encourages us to embrace the love, passion and joy already present in our life. What makes it so dangerous is that it demands a helicopter vision of all aspects of our life: where my heart sings and where it doesn’t. That long hard look at ourself will be very challenging and sometimes painful, but it will also prompt us to make changes, moving us towards wholeness and living an authentic life.

So, we can have great passion and integrity but if we keep these qualities hidden and don’t learn how to show and communicate them successfully, they remain buried and we are trapped in good but ineffective intentions.

This is where Charisma comes in. The origin of this Greek word means a divinely conferred power. The story I love from Greek mythology is: when the Gods came down to Earth to mingle, they would assume human form but they would always have this special sparkle/golddust surrounding them that couldn’t be concealed. Charisma is a personal magnetism, the power to attract, and we are rightly wary of this. All power, as with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, has the propensity to abuse. But power is not good or bad. It is an energy in itself: it is how we work with it that determines if this energy is for good or ill.

It is the attribute I took much longer to own in myself. I come from a culture and family that mistrusts charisma. It is perceived as ego driven and lacking in humility: at best superficial and lightweight, at worst the tool of the arrogant for personal gain via conscious manipulation. It’s why I always integrate charisma with integrity: without integrity, charisma becomes the ‘used car salesperson syndrome’: manipulative and transactional with no heart. When charisma has passion but no compassion and integrity, its potential is to do even greater harm. We all know people who fit into this.

In my research on charisma, I’ve been asking people about their immediate response to the word. I had a fascinating discussion with an Italian man who winced and talked about Machiavelli’s thoughts on charisma, namely that leaders should shape their own fortune, through ‘charisma, cunning and force.’ I read ‘Il Principe’ as a student and remember feeling impressed but also very distanced from Machiavelli’s image of great leadership. He portrayed an aspirational role-model that had no relation to me.

As I continued my discussions, what emerged is the charisma talked about felt very old fashioned: an overly extrovert, bullish and arrogant energy. It’s no wonder many people are resistant to access their own charisma and inner power when they have experienced being on the receiving end of a brutal, unchecked energy.

It’s the ‘reluctant leaders’ that I trust, the ones with gentle shy humility who do not want the role for the glory and recognition. They are the ones looking around urging someone else to take it on. But the shadow aspect of this gentle humility is that it can stem from an elusive core confidence manifested in a fear of failure, i.e. the ‘Imposter Syndrome.’ There is so much fear here: fearful of being pushed into the spotlight, fearful of others’ judgment…and crucially, fearful of one’s own inner power.

A core part of my leadership development work is focussing on the inner heart and mind of the individual. It’s about creating a leadership mindset and also about inner confidence and self-worth: developing a healthy relationship with authority and power, including our own, is fundamental to this. Charisma stems from our inner power and, as I said earlier, power is not good or bad. It is an energy in itself: it is how we work with it that determines if this energy is for good or ill.

In my article, Enlightened Leadership, I wrote more about our inner power and how leadership is evolving: ‘This is what I call Enlightened Leadership: a finely tuned balance of both the Feminine and Masculine Principles, psychological terms for two aspects we all have within us, regardless of gender: our Yin and Yang. Great leadership demonstrates an inspiring integration of both. See the brilliant ‘Ted Lasso’ as a wonderful example of enlightened leadership!’

So, what does a healthy connecting Charisma look like? Charisma is not…indeed should not… be about ego. It is about touching people’s hearts and minds. It’s ultimately about putting people at their ease and having a great and positive impact: lulling lions and wild beasts so they melt and are with you! It’s easy to do this inauthentically, the ‘used car salesperson syndrome’. It’s much more complex but with infinitely greater and far-reaching impact to do this when charisma is embedded in integrity. This moves from a forced, in your face seduction to a deep magnetism based on trust and reputation. And this is how we truly win hearts and minds.

Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood


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