Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I have probably met only a handful of people in my life whom I would call charismatic.

They weren’t the loud people at the center-of-attention. They were the ones cheerfully watching everyone, asking them questions about themselves and listening to the answers. I remember meeting parents from my kids’ new school at a pot-luck. The loudest ones were broadcasting who they were and what they did and how much money they made – but then there was the mother who saw the young assistant teacher sitting alone and went over to bring her into the conversation. That mother turned out to be, by far, the most charismatic (and not incidentally, most successful) of the bunch.

“Charisma” is hard to define. The word comes from the ancient Greek for “gift.” Authors of present-day articles often list famous people who have charisma – Oprah, Bill Clinton. Those celebrities may very well be charismatic, but I don’t think you can recognize charisma from a distance.

Many of these articles claim you can develop, through effort, charisma in yourself. But their advice is often to focus on yourself and how you are acting and reacting. One suggests that, if you feel yourself drifting in a conversation, to think of your toes. The idea is that will make you look like you are paying attention.

This advice misses the point.

Richard Branson calls charisma another word for self-confidence and I think he’s right. The people I’ve met who are charismatic seem to have dodged the need to boast and the tendency to be cowed by other people’s boasting. They are secure enough that they don’t care.

That frees up a tremendous amount of bandwidth they can use for doing what they want.

And that security is rare enough that it dazzles the rest of us.

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