What is charisma again?

Only half listening to Fareed Zakaria’s television program “GPS” on CNN this past Sunday, my ears pricked up when his conversation with John Miller, former assistant deputy director of national intelligence commented on the viability of al Qaeda after the death of Bin Laden.  Miller noted that Al Qaeda will go on without Bin Laden but that [the] “organization suffered a terrible blow because they lost their charismatic leader.  And when you’re operating on a global forum using the tools of globalization, the web and modern communications, charismatic leader matters.” (italics mine)

Then I opened this past Sunday’s New York Times and read Zachary Woolfe’s article:  “A Gift From the Musical Gods” that asks:  “Some Performers Have Charisma.  But What Is It?  It’s….It’s….”  It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot  and writing about a little for a long time.   In a new book that will be released next year Ted Sheckels, Diana Carlin and I ask why some seemingly qualified women have never been tapped for the presidency.  One of my subjects, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, is said to suffer from a “charisma gap” in some press articles.

 But what is it?  Does it just mean you are dull if you don’t have it? 

Like Woolfe, I’ve used the term to refer to several of my subjects:  Elizabeth Dole, Betty Ford, and though I haven’t written much about Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, I’m quite sure I’ve written somewhere that they are “charismatic.”  I even found a book called The Clinton Charisma.  He must have it if there is a whole book devoted to it.   I remember Maureen Dowd commenting that Caroline Kennedy’s charisma compensates for her poor public speaking.  Really?  I thought people with charisma are good public speakers.  Sociologist  Stephen Turner in a 2003 article “Charisma Reconsidered”offers that it  refers to “role-models who break new ground” and that it “seems to collapse into personal style.” 

Christine Gregoire

The Encarta dictionary says it is “personal magnetism” and a “divine gift.”  That’s what I mean when I say someone is charismatic, I think, especially the personal magnetism part.

Although one person’s “magnetism” could be another person’s “bombastic.”

If so than is charisma a matter of opinion?

What is charisma again?


6 Responses to “What is charisma again?”

  1. 1 Joe
    August 22, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Interesting topic, Nikki. When I think of “charisma,” I think of people like John Kennedy, Ed Rendell and Bill Clinton. They had/have that personal magnetism that drew people to them and made them listen, regardless of their initial political beliefs. Reagan also had it, but then again, he was a trained actor who knew how to emote. I think Obama is a good speaker, but a good speaker is not necessarily charismatic. I think charisma carries through after the speaking and public appearances are done.

    It’s a combination of leadership, personal strength, character and originality that makes one stand out from the crowd, but its also the ability to make people feel comfortable with you, even if they barely know you.

    It should also not be confused with power. Power attracts, but for its own sake. I think candidates like Hillary Clinton attract people because they have power, but not necessarily because they have charisma. I do think that in women, charisma is often categorized as “sex appeal” to their detriment, because it diminishes the true quality of the person. When I think of women and charisma, I think of women such as Kathryn and Audrey Hepburn. Oprah has it, as well, but to be honest, I don’t think there is a lot of charisma in Hollywood today. Instead we get manufactured “star power,” which is quickly seen as artificial.

    I also think that the lack of charisma is a problem for the current GOP presidential candidates. Combined, they don’t have enough charisma to attract flies. They all tend to be dull, pedantic, rigid and unapproachable, unless you are one of the “true believers” who follow them because they preach your message.

  2. 2 Ryan Doyle
    August 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I never thought to much about this word. I thought I knew what charisma meant until I read this. I think that no matter how charismatic anyone is, nobody can be charismatic all the time in every situation. When even the most charismatic individuals feel uncomfortable they can unravel and quickly become uncharismatic. I think back on some of the athletes and politicians throughout time who have been revered as so charismatic and most of them you can think of a moment or two when they lost their “cool.” Perhaps if you can find an exception, the instances when they lost their cool was a moment when they were not in the public eye.

  3. August 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    A lot of my personal research has led me to conclude that charisma is the ability to transform other people’s emotions when they are in your company. The brain is a huge chemical factory; the skill of triggering another person’s mind to release an emotion is the hall mark of charisma. Perhaps the most effective way to achieve this is to ‘go first’ and feel the emotion yourself that you want to project onto others.

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