A Few Thoughts on Charisma
“Charisma is the ability to do the hard work of fitting in with those around you.” –Seth Godin
Charisma is a word that is often misunderstood. I recently ran across Seth Godin’s excellent definition of what it is. It is a person’s ability to fit in comfortably with those around him or her. This is a gift that can, and should, be developed. It takes practice and attention to detail.
The dictionary defines charisma as “a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.” This charisma, or charm, is developed from making others feel comfortable in your presence.
Charisma is more than fitting in. It also includes making others feel that they fit in. It involves drawing them into the circle and finding something in common. It always involves listening and being more concerned with others than yourself.
I grew up with two folks who exhibited charisma. My Mom and Dad were simple country folks, but they had the gift of making everyone they met feel important. They made folks feel as if they fit in and had a seat at the table.
My dad’s been gone for nearly twenty years, but his lessons of human relationships are burned deep into my soul. Daddy met people so well. It was a matter of his enjoying people.
I think about this quote I saw on a sign in an African refugee camp: “If you like people, people will like you.”
That quote has stayed with me from the day I saw it scrawled on a sign in northern Uganda. Whoever wrote the quote already knew about charisma. He probably couldn’t have defined it, but already understood charisma: If you like people . . .
My dad liked people, and in return people liked him.
Charisma has nothing to do with one’s social standing. Like its close cousin, class, it is available to one and all. I once read a British essay on class that mentioned how the most blue-blooded aristocrat may lack class, while an uneducated Welsh miner can exude class from his pores.
Charisma, or the ability to make others feel comfortable, is not related to shyness or a quiet personality. The quietest person can easily spread a smile and a word of kindness.
I mentioned that my parents had charismatic qualities in how they related to people. My mom, at age 86, still is adept at making folks feel important. I recently spent a week with her in Branson, Missouri. Despite her health problems and challenges of getting around, she met people with a smile and a word of encouragement.
I especially noticed it in her interaction with service people. It tells a great deal about a person as to how they treat people who provide service. Whether it was a ticker taker, a waiter, or a clerk in a store, Mom made eye contact with them, shared a smile, and had a word of encouragement for all.
Once again, if you like people, they will like you.
In the business world, there’s a term called the waiter’s rule. Here’s how it goes: when an organization is interviewing a prospective employee, they will pay particular attention to how this potential hire reacts to the people who serve them. How we treat the unnamed people around us says a great deal about ourselves.
I once read about a similar test from a medical school. Part of the future doctor’s grading was how they related to the staff. Not only should the student know the names of the medical staff who worked around him, but also the names of the custodial staff and cleaners they encountered daily.
To sum up this essay on charisma, it is a trait that is available to one and all. Like exercising a muscle, charisma becomes stronger when it’s practiced. Don’t let this oft-misunderstood word scare you away; it’s a matter of liking people, making them feel important, and doing the “hard work of fitting in.”
A mask cannot hide charisma, and it can easily be recognized from a distance of six feet . . . or more.
Let’s all practice a little bit of it today.