What makes a leader charismatic? A reflection from the notes of a former staff, Ana Mae D. Bangud (19 November 2012).

“For me, a charismatic leader is someone who is able to display a character wherein- (1) the people around him build confidence in investing trust in him; (2) he wins their love; and, (3) he makes them feel existent. AndLooking for content topics to digi-scribe, I stumbled on this note of a former staff about leadership and I thought it is worth sharing with people who are building themselves up as a leader or are under the lead of somebody. It is interesting to note, in the view of the author, “What makes people follow a person and thus turn that person into a charismatic leader, or sustain the person’s leadership?” In management and business administration literatures, leadership or domination has its bases, as follows: 1) Tradition, which is based on long held beliefs about a dominant figure; 2) Rational-legal choice, which stands on the agreed policies or rules shared by the community and formalized as laws of the land, and 3) Charisma, which rests on the intrinsic positive and attractive qualities of a person. As follows is the thought of Ana on a charismatic leader:

“[For me, a charismatic leader is someone who is able to display a character wherein: (1) the people around him build confidence in investing trust in him; (2) he wins their love; and, (3) he makes them feel existent. And so, people follow him.

People have different criteria or standards in considering whom and when to trust, whom and when to love, and the process of feeling existent. Therefore, someone has to be the “Suitable Other” meeting those different standards, and thereby, gaining their trust and love. It would be much more if he is able to set standards for the people around him on these concerns.

People follow a leader if he understands their needs, shortcomings, attitudes, culture and beliefs. When he listens attentively to their concerns, people feel importance is bestowed upon them.

People will love to stay under the leadership of someone who creates a “welcome atmosphere”, does not build fences with particular persons, and never leave anybody behind.

Sacrifice really touches people’s heart. (I truly thank my mentor for giving us time, effort and other resources- to nurture us, teach us, and train us to become somebody. These are some of my reasons why I stay with him. I owe a lot from him. … So much of my being sentimental.)

Integrity pronounces honor and warrant being followed. People love a leader who will stand on integrity above popularity and power.

Above all, people will continue to follow a leader if they themselves witness how they have grown a lot, and better, under the guidance and influence of their leader.]”

Three character traits stand out to me after reading this – trust, love and importance. It appears to me that these three are actually built upon the efforts of the person to understand people’s peculiarities in terms of “their needs, shortcomings, attitudes, culture and beliefs.” All these account for a person’s “habitus”, which is how a person has been shaped by his or her environment. That is, it is what makes a person different from, but also similar to, other people.

In different ways’ a person may have peculiar needs, like a little consideration. A staff may be struggling with an issue at home and thus the person cannot be reasonably expected to behave or function well at that moment. Unless you are told that he or she is ok and the situation is manageable, then one cannot presume things will be just fine and things will go well.

Also, for some reasons, everyone tends to have shortcomings and this can be very disappointing and frustrating. Good leadership is recognizing this and being prepared for it spells the difference. It is not that the person cannot be relied upon, but a hand is just needed from time to time.

Another thing that gets in the acceptable and normative behavior and performance of a person is the big “A”. High attitude is great, rotten attitude is destructive and awareness of it can save the moment. We have no control of a person’s attitude, but somehow it can be influenced and eventually modified, if it is pointed down. Of course, high attitude must be supported and reinforced.

Finally, sub-culture and beliefs also form part of the behavioral equation. It could be ethnic, religious or academic convictions and so forth. Arguing against a person’s culture and belief can be counterproductive. In all these, connecting is crucial in gaining an understanding of the person. Achieving and manifesting this understanding builds the trust, wins the love and makes the person feel important.

Apparently, Ana needs to feel important, that is, “to be made feel existent”, and who does not? In the Scriptures, there is a parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd left behind the 99 to search for the one lost. Interpretations say that taking care of the one is the key to taking care of all the remaining sheep.

More so, a charismatic leader is thought to be inclusive in approach and builds solidarity, that is, “[not building fences or leaving anybody behind]”. Creating a welcome attitude must be easy and you just have to keep a positive view of people but not building fences can be very difficult especially when you deal with difficult people. Not leaving anyone behind is quite easy enough to do when you have enough concern, respect and care for those under your lead. It also means taking a step backward, as maybe necessary to keep everyone at pace. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone: if you want to go far, go together.” A leader wants to go far, obviously. Nonetheless, these are the characteristics of a leader that Ana finds as the building blocks of charisma.

Further, there are three other things that build the charisma of a leader and these are the leader’s sacrifice and integrity, and experiencing growth of yourself. Sacrifice is when you choose to give up something for the welfare of the person or people under your lead. Sometimes it is as simple as giving up the little comfort you could be enjoying just so you could attend to the needs of your staff. Integrity is also honesty, despite the discomfort of truth. Sometimes, for the sake of popularity and power, a leader hide things, including important ones if it will get in the way to achieve popularity or power. Finally, once a person feels personal growth under one’s leadership, then he or she will likely follow and remain loyal to the leader.

Do you agree? What makes a leader charismatic to you?


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