People often speak of an especially effective leader’s charisma â€“ that somewhat mysterious ability to connect with people in a profound and moving way.Â We can all think of leaders, usually on the national or international stage, who possessed charisma.Â Some names that come to mind include Eleanor Roosevelt, with her quick wit and commitment to social equity, and Ronald Reagan, called the “Great Communicator” for his skill in connecting with people.Â More recently we recognize Oprah Winfrey and her engaging manner with people from all walks of life and Barack Obama for his undeniable ability to move audiences with hisÂ presence and oratory.
While charisma can add to a leader’s skill set, it must be based upon a foundation of trust.Â Without earned and merited trust, a charismatic personality is little more than a con artist.
Two important ways to gain and hold the trust of followers and other constituents is to demonstrate both integrity and competence in all you do.
Integrity is not simply honesty, though truth and truthfulness are significant parts of it.Â Ultimately integrity is being true to yourself and your beliefs.Â Â The dictionary defines integrity as “the adherence to moral or ethical principles.”Â This implies that one’s actions match her words â€“ that she does what she says she will do regardless of consequences, that she has a moral compass that guides her in all instances, that she can be counted on to do the right thing.Â Â At the end of the day, a person who has integrity can be trusted by others in all situations.
In addition to possessing integrity a leader must demonstrate competence.Â No one wants to follow someone who is inept, no matter what authority he may possess.Â In fighting wars a follower’s life may depend upon it.Â During the Civil War a fellow officer said of Gen. Nathaniel Banks that it was murder to send soldiers out under him.Â While this political appointee of President Lincoln had the authority to command, he clearly did not possess the competence to lead.
The U.S. Marine Corps in its Fundamentals of Marine Corps Leadership tells its aspiring leaders that they must be technically and tactically proficient.Â To develop this ability, they are told to “seek a well-rounded [professional] education” and to “seek out and associate with capable leaders.Â [To] observe and study their actions.”Â Lastly, Marines are told to prepare themselves for the job of leader at the next higher rank.Â This advice applies to leadership in any situation or endeavor.
By cultivating and demonstrating both integrity and competence in all you do, you will gain the trust of your followers.Â While only a gifted few possess natural charisma, it may be argued that it is not required for the smaller arenas in which most of us labor.Â Yet as you continue to grow and nurture your leadership skills through practice and experience, you may discover that your followers consider your leadership to be charismatic.Â As with beauty, charisma is in the eye of the beholder.
Excerpted from Leadership on the Line â€“ The Workbook, Ed Rehkopf, Clarity Publications, 2009
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