by Arielle Essex

Rapport for leaders

What is charisma? Charisma means having such a magnetic personality that you inspire enthusiasm, interest, motivation and respect in others by means of personal charm or influence. Charismatic people exude gravitas, credibility, authenticity, strength, allure and power. People want to follow them.


When leaders do rapport it is often called charisma:

Charisma = the most sophisticated form of rapport

Charisma = the most elegant way to handle politics

Charismatic leaders gracefully manage group dynamics and artfully handle all kinds of people politics. They have not just mastered basic rapport skills; they have developed this expertise into an art form. People choose them, vote for them and promote them into positions of power.

Relationships are the key to leadership, morale and productivity. Charismatic leaders understand human behaviour. They can recognise and predict how individuals will behave, and then select the appropriate strategies to foster and maintain relationships. They know how to develop and utilise those relationships and how to capitalise on each individual’s strengths.

Charm is... a way of getting the answer ‘yes’ without having asked any clear question.

Albert Camus

People perceive charisma as a gift, but in fact it’s a by-product of specific behaviours. Charismatic leaders seem to have a glow around them. They are often picked to liaise between people, because they can so easily talk to opposing sides and translate the message. Whether they hold the highest positions or not, they are generally considered to be more credible, more intelligent, more eloquent, more successful, more persuasive, more convincing, more impressive or more powerful than others. The reality is that they just know how to package their contributions to be more compelling and influential.

Is it possible to learn and develop charisma?

Charisma assumes proficiency in being able to build and maintain rapport with anyone at any time. Until rapport skills flow naturally, it is impossible to learn how to develop the inspiring and magnetic qualities of charismatic leadership.

Charisma relies on understanding some basic concepts about human dynamics and mastering some specific behaviours. Luckily, these are not rocket science and just by picking up a few tips, you are likely to improve your style and charisma considerably. It’s about knowing when to do what. The more skills you put into practice, the better your results will be. Leaders can ‘up their charisma quotient’ by building on their own natural personality traits and learning how to deal with different types of people. Technical brilliance alone may not be enough. But when you combine high expertise with a compelling persona, your leadership will stand out.

Primary colours – Bill Clinton

He was a big fellow, looking seriously pale on the streets of Harlem in deep summer. I am small and not so dark, not very threatening to Caucasians. I do not strut my stuff.

We shook hands. My inability to recall that particular moment more precisely is disappointing. The handshake is the threshold act, the beginning of politics. I’ve seen him do it two million times now, but I couldn’t tell you how he does it, the right-handed part of it – the strength, quality, duration of it, the rudiments of pressing the flesh. I can, however, tell you a whole lot about what he does with his other hand. He is a genius with it. He might put it on your elbow, or up by your biceps; these are the basic reflexive moves. He is interested in you. He is honoured to meet you. If he gets any higher up your shoulder – if he, say, drapes his left arm over your back, it is somehow less intimate, more casual.

He’ll share a laugh or a secret, not a real one – flattering you with the illusion of conspiracy. If he doesn’t know you all that well and you’ve just told him something ‘important’, something earnest or emotional, he will lock in and honour you with a two hander, his left hand overwhelming your wrist and forearm. He’ll flash that famous misty look of his and he will mean it.

Anyway, as I recall it, he gave me a left hand – just above the elbow plus a vaguely curious ‘oh, so you’re the guy I’ve been hearing about’ look and a follow-me nod. I didn’t have the time, or presence of mind, to send any message back at him. Slow emotional reflexes I guess. His were lightning. He was six meaningful handshakes down the row before I caught up. And then I fell in, a step or two behind, classic staff position, as if I’d been doing it all my life.

Charisma: possible downsides

Can ‘personal magic’ get you into trouble? If charisma is not backed up by competence and proficiency, you get a flashy leader who has been promoted beyond his capability and competence. Such a leader may be very popular, or have a high profile, but lack genuine effectiveness.

Charisma, as defined in political terms by sociologist Max Weber, refers to a leader who has a special grace or extraordinary power to rule by the force of personality alone. As such, it is not always a virtue. Nkrumah and Sukarno stirred the blood of their countrymen, but they very nearly ruined their countries. Two of the most persuasive leaders of the 20th century were also two of its greatest monsters – Hitler and Mussolini. Particularly in advanced nations, the leader who governs by emotion and style is apt to be regarded as a dangerous indulgence, one that people with stable institutions should not hanker for.

So perhaps it is small wonder that many industries prefer candidates who are appropriately serious, sober and dull. They only trust people who listen and respond with facts and analysis, rather than dazzle with charisma. When dealing with this type of situation, using charisma would not be advisable. Proficient use of the basic rapport skills of matching will automatically satisfy this requirement for sobriety. But if you master the advanced charismatic skills, you could subtly enhance the quality of the communication within their comfort range.

Charisma goes in and out of fashion. Some people give it bad press because they associate it with religious groups that suspend rational judgement and blindly follow some cult leader. Others believe charisma to be one of the most important keys to business success. Regardless of what you believe, there will always be leaders who use their charisma to gain respect, admiration, support, compliance, influence and power. Do you think leadership magnetism and charm are qualities worth nurturing for your advancement?


‘What separates the cream from the rest of the crop is the ability to sell a vision, and to get people working for you,’ says Natalie Laackman, Chicago-based senior finance officer and vice president of the ConAgra Foods Deli division of ConAgra Foods Inc. She cites the ability to relate personally to staffers as another aspect of charisma – a characteristic she associates with Jack Greenberg, the recently-retired McDonald’s Corp chairman and CEO, who once served as the company’s CFO. Laackman worked closely with Greenberg at McDonald’s before arriving at ConAgra in April.

‘He’ll focus on the person who’s talking to him, not just on the business agenda, and that has really endeared him to people and caused them to be very loyal,’ says Laackman. ‘He treats you like you’re the most important person in the room.’

Competent people need charisma

Unquestionably, charisma wields great power. Like any effective tool, it must be used wisely and with the highest integrity. Charisma should never be a substitute for technical brilliance.

Key point

People who have true leadership capabilities need charismatic skills in order to avoid being overlooked and ignored.

Ironically, the most competent people often discount the importance of being able to attract support and influence people. They neglect to learn the simple skills that would help them use power to the best effect. Unfortunately, history is full of people with less talent who mastered the charismatic knack of creating huge followings.

Also see the topic on Charisma.