by Nikki Owen

What is charisma?

There are numerous and contradictory views on defining charisma. Until recently, many believed that you either had charisma or not. In 1947, renowned German sociologist, Max Weber, defined charisma as a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which one is ‘set apart’ from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These as such are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as divine in origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.

Weber perceived charisma as a set of traits or distinguishing qualities, such as being visionary, energetic, unconventional and exemplary. This view contrasts strongly with studies by professor of management, Robert House, who decided in 1977 that charisma is a set of behaviours. House cited behaviours, such as exhibiting high levels of self-confidence, persistence, determination, passion and optimism.

According to psychologist Robert Hogan, charisma also has a dark side. He claims that charismatic people are narcissistic, bold, assertive and powerful. In 1995, Fernando Molero, an expert researcher on charisma and Transformational Leadership proposed a new classification of charisma, based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. This stated that charisma was the individual’s ego, driven by a desire to become a dominant father figure.

Again, this is different to the view offered by Laura Hall in her doctoral research, written in 1983, in which she highlighted that charismatic individuals exhibited high levels of creativity and originality.

At first glance, all these definitions may appear to be disconnected, yet they all share certain elements that can help the process of identifying charisma within any individual.

Today, experts in the field of communication and influence highlight that charisma is something that can be identified, developed and nurtured within everyone. In fact, many of the seemingly opposing viewpoints can be woven together into a Newtonian cause-and-effect scenario.

If you examine the internal traits identified by Max Weber, you’ll notice that these are the ‘causes’ of external ‘effects’ or behaviours posited by Robert House. For example, an individual who is visionary (trait) will often be passionate (behaviour) about their vision. The more compelling a person’s vision is, the greater their drive and this can spontaneously build the ‘ego’ (Freud’s view) and stimulate extreme levels of creativity (Laura Hall) as the person single-mindedly focuses on ways to attain their vision.

Charisma can be summarised and defined as ‘a power that captivates the hearts and minds of others’ – extremely useful for a manager wanting to make their mark in an organisation.


Charisma... a power that captivates the hearts and minds of others.

Generating charisma using behavioural modelling

Evaluating and assessing people who have an abundance of charisma helps develop an understanding about how to create it.

Repeatable success is created by focusing on finding the best examples of people in a chosen field, and investigating what they do that generates the results they get. Behavioural modelling goes beyond behaviours and encompasses the elements of the subjects’ mindset, skills and knowledge.

The tried and tested field of Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP as it’s widely known, has its foundations in modelling world-class people to identify the difference between somebody who is merely competent and somebody who excels in the same role. Fortunately, for our purposes, there are many different examples of charismatic icons – famous people who were or are at the top of their game.