images/back2.gif 1. Charismatic choice?


The Character of Charisma
POSTED 15 JUL 2004

1. Charismatic choice?

2. The business of charisma

3. Powerful words = charismatic words?

4. Charisma at a distance

A candidate and his charisma: John Edwards. Photo: Sen. John Edwards

Dick Cheney and John Kerry: Victims of charisma gap? Photo: The White House and Sen. John Kerry

Charismatic leaders have strong core values that drive their behavior. They advocate an appealing vision that moves beyond the status quo.

Crippled by polio, but dripping optimism and charisma, Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigned for president in Albany, New York, in June, 1932. Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

John K. chooses John E.
Democratic presidential-nominee-to-be John Kerry has chosen a former primary opponent, Sen. John Edwards, as his vice-presidential candidate. "John Edwards speaks to the heart of America -- hope and optimism," Kerry said. "He is a lifelong champion for America's families who has shown courage and conviction standing up for America's values."

Man in blue suit with arms spread wide open. In welcoming the nomination, Democrats pointed out the obvious: Edwards drips charisma.

Ditto the press. For example, on July 7, the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Sen. John F. Kerry chose fellow Sen. John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate Tuesday, hoping to infuse his campaign with the buoyancy and charisma Edwards brought to his own White House bid."

As the media was deluged by the C word, we Why Filers got to wondering. What exactly is charisma? Is it something you can measure, or do you just know it when you see it? Is charisma necessarily a good thing?

Smiling man with glasses in front of American flag and Man in blue suit with red tie from shoulders up.

Enough introductory blather...
The study of charisma began with pioneering sociologist Max Weber, who lived from 1864 until 1920. Jerry Wofford, professor emeritus of management at the University of Texas, Arlington, says Weber "defined charismatic leadership as gifted, inspired, from a leader who pursues a vision which attracts followers to identify with him, to emulate him."

Charismatic leaders stir things up, adds Wofford. They have "very strong core values that drive their behavior and advocate an appealing vision that moves the organization or group beyond the status quo."

Charismatic leaders are also articulate, Wofford says. "They speak dynamically, forcefully, persuasively, and that causes other people to buy into the vision, to want to achieve it. They are generally risk takers, unconventional, self-confident, and have a sufficient amount of competence that people feel comfortable in the leadership."

The relationship goes both ways, says Wofford, who taught leadership skills. "It's important that the follower sees the leader as charismatic."

Smiling man sitting in car shaking hands with man.

Finally, context matters. "Charismatic leadership usually emerges in a crisis situation, because in a crisis people are more likely to look toward a person who appears capable of bringing them through."

Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Riverside who focuses on non-verbal communication, defines personal charisma as "a certain appeal, allure, or presence. When charismatic people enter a room, they draw attention and may enliven the whole gathering." Charismatic people, he adds, have "a basic self-confidence and project this to others" and are "emotionally expressive. That is, others have a sense of what they are feeling, mostly via nonverbal communication."

So you just know it when you see it?

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Megan Anderson, project assistant; Terry Devitt, editor; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive

©2004, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.