When talking about leadership people are often drawn to talk about those they have found to be charismatic. Equally, many see it as a goal to be a charismatic leader.
Sport provides some clear examples., with much being talked about the hopes for legacy from the London 2012 Olympics. One of the most important aspects of that legacy will be the number of people inspired by the struggle and success of others. While some of the athletes, such as Usain Bolt, are arguably charismatic, it’s just so often the humble, quietly dedicated champions like Jessica Ellis who inspire. It also doesn’t need to be the winner either: look at the Jamaican bobsled team in 1988 or Saudi runner Sarah Attar in 2012. Neither came close to winning, but they each received standing ovations and will continue to inspire generations to come, albeit for different reasons.
Charisma is about the person who has it; inspiration is about the person who receives it.
Leadership when charisma is involved can be a challenge. I’m not saying that leaders can’t be charismatic – indeed, often they are. It’s just that charisma is not a pre-requisite to lead; some might even find the charisma of others daunting. What’s much more important is to be inspiring. Being charismatic is about how that person makes others feel about them; inspiration, on the other hand, is about how they make others feel about themselves. The latter creates considerably more possibilities.
To inspire is what has others think and dream that they too can push themselves to achieve great things, to challenge assumptions. It’s what has them dig deep on a cold winter’s morning when they don’t feel like getting up at 4am to train, or to pick themselves up after they’ve fallen off their horse – real or pommel. It’s what creates unbelievable drive and ambition to seek a future against the odds. And they do it for themselves, not for the person who was the source of that inspiration.
When you’re in the presence of someone who is charismatic, you leave the room thinking about them; if they’re inspiring, you leave the room thinking about yourself. So the challenge for the charismatic leader is to ensure that they inspire in equal measure too.
Charisma is about the person who has it; inspiration is about the person who receives it. Leadership is not about the leader. It’s about those they serve.