Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher had charismatic characters. The Queen certainly does, and our new PM, Theresa May, will require heaps of it to lead the country.
Charisma is the attributes of a person that when packaged up together make them appealing enough to inspire us to follow them. But, are women doing enough to let their natural charisma shine through?
As Theresa May – the second female Prime Minister in the UK’s history – makes herself comfortable in Number 10, thoughts turn to how to identify and develop the traits that make women strong leaders. JFK, Gandhi, Churchill and many political leaders, in fact, are said to be charismatic leaders: being charming, able to communicate a vision effectively and offering a demonstrable empathy for others. It’s no surprise that charisma and leadership go hand in hand, as the one enables the other.
In many ways this profusion of strong male leaders throughout history has perhaps led to the perception that charisma is more of a masculine trait. However, evidence has indicated for some time (Riggio, Assessment of basic social skills, 1986 and more recently Groves, Gender Differences in Social and Emotional Skills and Charismatic Leadership, 2005) that women actually posses stronger social and emotional skills, which enable them to be charismatic leaders.
Female leaders such as Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama are coming to the fore demonstrating the traits that make them effective leaders. Having a charismatic leader at the helm of a business is said to bring numerous benefits at many levels. Indeed, charisma is said to be the most important dimension in a transformational leadership style that inspires loyalty and devotion. Transformational leaders appeal to the emotions, consciousness and the moral compass of a follower that already knows the way things should be done and needs a strong leader to show them the way. A study from Eagly in 2003 found that women are more likely to use a transformational leadership style.
Some people are naturally more charismatic than others, but this is not to say that charisma cannot be developed. A key indicator for charisma is self-awareness and the ability to accurately identify the effect brought upon others. Someone lacking in charisma will proceed with their intentions regardless of the discomfort of others, whereas charismatic people regularly monitor their own behaviour and are extremely adept in all manner of social and business occasions as a result of this. Tied to this is the ability to read the non-verbal cues of others, and studies including Riggio, Applications of Nonverbal Communication, have found that women are more skilled at doing this than men.
The measure that most people use to determine the presence of charisma is verbal communication and the ability to articulate a vision. It is when speeches are delivered, and a leader is stood alone with the focus entirely upon them, that others assess their charisma. Again, this is something that can be developed, and whilst content may be assessed for charisma in terms of language, cultural sensitivity, empathy and so forth, it is the delivery that has the greatest impact upon the perceptions of charisma. Does the leader know how to engage an audience? Can they maintain their attention? Is there something intriguing about the leader? If the answer to all of these is yes, then the audience will most probably classify the leader as being charismatic.
If the criteria is strong emotional and social skills, self-awareness, empathy and excellent verbal and non-verbal communication skills, then women already possess all of the ingredients required to be charismatic leaders and as we progress through the 21st century we are likely to see many more female leaders emerge.
About the author
Paul Russell is founder and MD of Luxury Academy, a company that offers specialist soft skills training in aspects such as communication, business etiquette and leadership.