Today’s Oxymoron Is: Everyday Charisma

If I were to ask a crowd “what do great leaders have that others don’t seem to,” it surely wouldn’t be very long before someone would say “charisma.” And someone else would say “presence.” You might wonder:  Who has it? Do I have it? Do you have it? And, what the heck is “it,” anyway?

We would probably quickly agree on who has charisma: Dr. King, Meryl Streep, Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Marianne Williamson, Newt Gingrich. Okay, you can’t stand some of them, but neither can you argue the fact that they truly excite, energize, motivate people with some “thing” that they bring to the table. I, of course, want to ask about “everyday leaders” and charisma but before I do let’s try to give charisma just a little bit more definition, and more relevance for those of us who do not have Reaganesque star power.

I think Tom-I-love-hyperbole-Peters captured something mighty close to charisma, and made an audacious recommendation about who should (and shouldn’t) get promoted in organizations, when he said this in a closing line of a speech on leadership in 2003:  “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever promote any human being to any position who does not vibrate, who does not give off intensity, who does not literally exude energy.”*

Oh Lord, you’re thinking, is he kidding?  I’m supposed to “vibrate,” and to “literally exude energy?” Um, well yes. Whether you want to get promoted, and/or you want to lead from where you are, exuding energy is the key that opens the doors you need to get through.  Now, for many of you, it’s Monday morning as you read this, and that’s a tall order I’ve just laid before you.  So, let me offer a few practical tips to help you bump your charisma up.  Next week, I’ll take a very different slant on charisma and presence. For now, try this:

  • Try to gauge energy all day on a 1-10 scale – yours and others
  • Practice breathing deeply – oxygen generates energy in the system
  • When you’re on the phone, stand up – you’ll be more energized/energizing
  • Send someone a note of praise – in this case giving is getting; don’t ask me why
  • Touch other people appropriately 🙂 – it helps energy flow
  • Spend 5 minutes clearly identifying your outcomes for the day – fuzziness dissipates energy, clarity multiplies it

Do these things and you will vibrate, more than you’re used to doing. And as much as you can – with authenticity as your guide – fill your language, your steps, your gestures, and your day with intentional energy, to

Lead with your best self,


* Peters is cited in a wonderful article about charisma by Tom Bruno-Magdich called “Charisma: What is it, who has it, and where can we get it?” at his site:

  • Hi Dan
    I hope you are doing well. In contrast to Peters’ words, the Level 5 leaders from Jim Collin’s Good to Great were all introverts. In the book, Made to Stick (Heath), it was found that charisma was not a leading factor in whether or not your message would stick. People remember the experience with a charismatic speaker but tend to remember very little of what they actually said. What are your thoughts?
    William Frank Diedrich

    • Hey Bill,
      Great conversation starter! I appreciate what you’re saying. Here is perhaps a parallel: As a sometimes-speakers, sometimes-consultant, I find the former easier and more fun, but the latter to be more lasting. You don’t generally make a difference in the life of another – individual or organizational – from 50,000 feet.
      Nevertheless, I have found that charismatic leaders/speakers can generate two things: (1) a major paradigm shift; after listening to Bill Clinton, Mario Cuomo or Marianne Williamson, for example, I find myself seeing and interpreting things in a new way. When our local Fr. Joe talks about LOVE of God, I am inspired to see and experience things differently. (2) Charismatic folks CAN evoke energy and action. Not always. But look at what Dr. King did! Look at the changes, risks, courage, etc., that he evoked.
      These are different than every day boss or manager or even CEO leadership. Yet a boss, manager, or CEO can from time to time use these tools.
      Back atcha: your thoughts?

  • Bill’s point is an important one.

    We all must be who we are, and introverts CAN be very effective.

    I find when I work with coauthors, I have to dig a little to connect with their passion. Many times they’ve gotten lost in the day-to-day and they lose the fire of their vision. I’m just back from a lean manufacturing YPO conference and the leaders in the room were very inspired by their new vision of lean. Some had words that made the potential of what they had discovered evident to all. Others spoke of incredible possibilities and inspiring results in terms that sounded academic, even though they we, in fact, deeply felt

    Of course as we clearly saw at the conference and you know so well, Dan, what matters most in longterm relationships is how people show up day to day. The energy comes from problems being solved, people’s voices being heard and things working well. If the energy is waning, I often find the connection to the personal vision tied with concrete action to be the reenergizer.

    Back to my coauthors – once they get to the heart of why they’re in the industry they’re in and why the book is important for the profession/industry overall, the words dance on the page. And as a post-script – it was very cool at the conference to meet people who apply my phrase books and had the light in their eyes of having been to the mountain-top and back because phrases really do bring the great vision down to earth, implementation and practice. They help people walk the great visions of those leaders who never met a hyperbole they didn’t love.

    Energy is necessary – and it takes more than sprinting energy to lead.

  • I’ve always thought charisma was an inherent thing, so I like the idea that finding ways to “energize” can also foster one’s ability to connect with others in an energizing way.
    I’m going to try a few of your tactics and will report on the results.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  • The message not stated is that charisma is a good thing. Of course it can be abused like chocolate, but it is a good thing. Maybe we think of charisma being for phonies, but connecting with people is necessary to get your message out. This was a good article, Dan, since it reminded me of things I know, but have let slip, and it taught me some new things, along with a link to a useful article.

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