The Secret To Cultivating Leadership Charisma

It's not about you. It's about your employees.

Steve Jobs could stand up in front of an audience and light them on fire. People loved him. Sometimes it hardly mattered what he said; people would still be on their feet, cheering. Mark Zuckerberg, try as he might, doesn’t get quite the same reaction.

This is what leads us to wonder whether charisma is something that you have to be born with. There seems to be this myth out there that you do, but I disagree. I believe charisma is something you can cultivate.

The key to cultivating charisma is to infuse meaning into the results that your team is creating. The people who work for you invest their time and labor in exchange for money. But the thing that creates loyalty—the thing that’s compelling, and that establishes charisma—is meaning: a sense of fulfillment that makes their work important to them.

Meaning is, of course, subjective, and is created by each individual as a reflection of his or her personal values and desires. This means that while it’s your responsibility as a leader to infuse meaning into the results of their work, you can’t tell your employees what that meaning is—that will depend on them.

Facebook is a great example of this. In October of last year, Facebook soared past one billion users. To put that into context, that’s more than the population of North and South America combined, and is nearly 50% larger than the entire population of Europe.

Now, Facebook doesn’t create a lot of content. We, the users of Facebook, create the content through status updates, “likes,” posts, comments, and other interactions. In this way, we become creators of online communities, which allow us to connect with other people. Thanks to this platform—this ability to connect and share information—I’m now good friends with my preschool best friend who lives in Melbourne, whom I hadn’t spoken to in many years. Through Facebook, we’re able to see pictures of each other’s kids, communicate quickly and easily, and keep track of what’s important in each other’s lives.

So, the meaning we create is our own. It’s a reflection of who we are. People who use Facebook for other purposes, like inviting their friends to events or connecting with people in common-interest groups, find a different meaning in the results of their Facebook usage.

In the same way, you need to infuse meaning in the results of your employees’ work, but allow them to determine just what that meaning is for themselves.

Mark Zuckerberg may not be as naturally charismatic as Steve Jobs was, but he certainly does have charisma. He’s cultivated this charisma by infusing so much meaning into Facebook; this is what people associate him with. In terms of public speaking, charisma coaches tend to say that Zuckerberg comes across as arrogant and not that likable, and that he should work on bringing his chin down and making his voice warmer so he can connect more with his audience. These sorts of tactical moves might help him engage his audience more effectively, but, quite honestly, Zuckerberg’s charisma really comes from his association with Facebook, and all the personal meaning that people draw from it.

Steve Jobs similarly infused meaning in Apple by branding the company as more than just a seller of products. Yes, Apple sells a lot of cool devices, but there’s more to it than that: By purchasing a MacBook Pro instead of the latest Dell computer, you’re aligning yourself with a particular identity. Who do you want to be? A stuffy PC person, or a more cutting-edge Apple person? This is the way Steve Jobs set it up, and this infused meaning is what gave him so much charisma.

When it comes to cultivating your own charisma, then, you need to infuse meaning into the results of your employees’ efforts. While external motivators like money and recognition are important, you also need to find ways to tap into people’s internal aspirations. This will motivate them to work harder, more efficiently, and with a stronger sense of loyalty towards you and the company as a whole, because the results they see will mean something to them on a personal level. This is the most powerful way to cultivate your own charisma, and to motivate your team.

—Michelle Randall is an executive coach and management consultant. Throughout the past decade, her clients include Fortune 500 executives and breakout entrepreneurs along with their teams. Author of several books, Michelle’s newest: Life Worth Living: A Practical Guide to Extreme Executive Effectiveness comes out later this month. Follow her @enrichingleader or subscribe to her newsletter, Relentless Results.

[Image: Flickr user Sharyn Morrow]

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1 Comments

  • Steve Giglio

    Michelle Randall is right on here. A leader must know the meaning a direct report
    places on their work, they must also frequently acknowledge their work
    product too. As you acknowledge a person's work you honor them. I remember the first strong leader I encountered as I started my career..he has charisma...and I still use the lessons he taught me today.