Executive Charisma – Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership

By Debra Benton in Book Reviews on January 12th, 2007 / 2 Comments

Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of LeadershipEvery leader in the business world is obsessed with getting things done effectively, wants to be heard, respected, and appreciated; in short, he or she would like to achieve significant success. More often than not, such self-driven executives are willing to go more than the proverbial `extra mile’ to reach the pinnacle of success. But often, in spite of all the efforts, success still eludes them. The answer could lie in developing `executive charisma’.

Executive Charisma is defined “as the ability to gain effective responses from others by using aware actions and considerate civility in order to get useful things done.” It is important for a leader no matter where he is in the management hierarchy. This also holds the secret to why some people in power are more effective than those with similar titles, responsibilities or abilities. The book discusses six, highly practical, sensible steps to achieve this with lots of practical examples of people who have successfully implemented them.

The foundations of executive charisma are: Integrity, confidence and full disclosure. Integrity, being ethically correct, is of great importance. There is little choice when it comes to integrity, as it remains the basic tenet. It is important that leaders live up to their words, say the truth, and would not worry about being caught. It is also important that there are no pretences what goes on in front and at the back of the screen is the same. If a leader lacks ethics there is little chance he/she will ever be cheered by followers.

The next important bedrock is confidence. The author observes, “Confidence is a state of mind, which conquers fear and apprehension.” Unlike integrity, confidence levels in different situations waver. But a leader has to show confidence since that would inspire his people to do the necessary work and produce results. Confidence here does not mean overconfidence or arrogance but a genuine confidence in one’s team ability to deliver results.

The third characteristic that executive charisma demands is offering full disclosure i.e., being `direct, crystal clear, disarmingly open, and straight’ in all verbal and non-verbal communication. This brings down the element of surprise and clearly communicates to others the leader’s stand on various issues.

Step 1: Be the First to Initiate
The very first step in executive charisma is taking the initiative and making the first move. The author strongly contends that there are numerous opportunities that keep coming every minute of the day and one cannot just afford to miss them. It is observed that successful people generally go out of their way to be the first to say hello, to initiate things even with strangers.

There is no dearth of people, who keep telling themselves that they will take the initiative when they are prepared, when the action is not painful. For such people, the author responds, `you’ll wait forever’. The move may be painful and uncomfortable but the impact may last forever. As they say, there is always a first time. So is it with trying new thingsthey might seem weird the first time but over time, one might actually start enjoying the glory.

To initiate, one has to keep his/her fears aside, i.e., they should not allow their fears to hold them back from trying out things. Taking the risk and beginning to do something is the only way to grow because if one never takes risks, he/she will never achieve what they are capable of. It is absolutely necessary to seize the moment and take somealmost anyaction.

The author emphasizes, “Your success, happiness, future and fortune depend on your willingness to initiate”. The third and the crucial step is to be consistent. There are bound to be pitfalls, failures, and unpleasant experiences but what really will make the difference is the ability to keep at it. Keep trying and never stop.

Step 2: Expect and Give Acceptance to Maintain Esteem
The key to success is to expect and give acceptance to maintain esteem. No matter what title, position or power a person holds or does not, we are first and foremost, human beings. As a human being, one has the right by birth to expect acceptance from everyone and has the obligation to give it to everyone. It is important that the esteem of oneself and others is maintained in any situation.

It is important to expect acceptance because if one does not, the world at large would not give it. And it is equally important that the same acceptance is given to everybody one interacts with irrespective of who they are. It is important that a leader expects to be treated equal and in turn treats others as equals. As matured people making business transactions, it is only natural to expect and give acceptance.

There are three crucial tenets that one has to keep in mind while expecting acceptance. Telling oneself, `I’m adequate’ is the first one. This focuses on positive self-talk that one is adequate; lack of this could mean telling oneself, `I’m inadequate,’ which unconsciously would hurt the `expect acceptance’ goal. It is telling oneself, “I’m capable, I’m okay, I’m fully up to any task.” The second tenet is to behave as though you expect acceptance. It is important to act as though “one belongs where he/she is, doing what they are doing”. This garners the necessary support of others and does not give them a chance to raise questions. Many times, people do not get acceptance because they might not have demanded it. The third step is to keep at it even when you don’t get it.

In spite of expecting acceptance and behaving in all the right patterns, one might not get acceptance. Even in such a situation, the author suggests to initiate and give acceptance even to those who do not give it to you and keep at it. The key to giving acceptance to others lies in thinking others are adequate, treating others as though they are adequate and giving acceptance even when they seemingly do not deserve it.

Esteem the feeling of self-satisfaction, self-worth, self-regard and self-respect has to be maintained at all times, within oneself and with others too. To maintain esteem, one has to follow the golden rule “Do unto others as you would want them do to you”. Always remember to treat people as one would like to be treated by them.

In spite of bad days, work pressures and hectic schedules, a leader should never treat others in a way that he/she would not want to be treated. Choosing and controlling one’s perspective is yet another important step in maintaining esteem. The author observes that executive charisma involves 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. Though one cannot choose what happens, one can always choose his/her reaction. Another important attitude is to be optimistic towards yourself, others and life. Choosing a positive attitude and having a constructive perspective could have a telling effect on the performance. This does not mean one should miss out on the real problems. It is important to be realistic but at the same time not to be `prematurely negatively panicky’.

Step 3: Ask Questions and Ask Favors
Leaders have to get others to execute and this can be most efficiently accomplished by bolstering esteem and also by using the technique of asking questions and asking for favors. Asking questions and favors will transfer positive energy from the leaders to others.

Asking questions in this context is not used as a means to impress, interrogate, intimidate, dominate, embarrass, put people in a corner etc. Rather, it is suggested as a means to learn, to improve knowledge, and to help foster a learning spirit. Many times, even leaders know a lot less than they think they know and asking questions helps them learn things they do not know.

In the context of asking questions, three things are important: Choosing words and tone carefully, keeping questions organized and volunteering information without being asked. Maintaining the right tone and choice of appropriate words are extremely important in framing questions. It is better if questions are direct and courteous without being emotional or with a hidden agenda. The preferred tone of voice is the voice one would use to say `Please pass the salt’.

Keeping the questions organized is the next important thing. Depending upon the objective of the questions i.e., to learn, verify, confirm, persuade, delegate, confront and reject, the questions need to be organized in a meaningful manner. Rehearsing the questions also will prove helpful when actually asking them. The third line of action may seem a little difficult but is important to keep the balance in the conversation. It is necessary that the leader also volunteers to provide information, otherwise people will stop answering.

Asking favors is yet another important way of developing bonding. There are many who believe rather mistakenly that if one does for others, others will appreciate it. But what is often overlooked is that they may also resent the person doing the favor since he/she caused them to `owe’. Owing to somebody is not a feeling most people appreciate. Therefore, as a leader, it is necessary to ask favors. It is not so much to `get’ something but to `give’ others an opportunity to help. Thus, a leader saves others from owing to him, which makes people feel valued.

When a leader is asking favors first, he is allowing others to be and feel useful, drive reciprocity and save doing it all. The leader or anyone who is doing the favor first should better keep in mind that it was his/her choice to do the favor, no one owes him/her anything and that he/she can choose to do more in hope that others will do something.

While asking favors, one has to keep in mind that “Would you do me a favor?” should soon be followed by “How can I help you?” Favors should be something that can be doable. If the task is too tough or cannot be accomplished, it sets people for failure and they might resent the person who has asked them to do it.

The request for a favor should be simple and specific. It should be easy for others to do the favor and a specific request saves time, effort and guessing. A leader who is asking a favor should be helpful rather than bossy.

At the end of a favor, it is all too important to thank the person doing itthat reinforces the loyalty of the followers. It should be kept in mind that favors should not be tasks that the leader should have done himself.

Step 4: Stand Tall, Straight and Smile
The next step of executive charisma is to stand tall, straight and smile. This simple, almost, intuitive step becomes important since a leader is always being watched. He/she can never, for a second, be caught off guard. It is all about maintaining and conveying an air of confidence in your appearance, bearing and attitude. Just about everything that others see when they look at you should convey a positive impression to maintain executive charisma.

One of the first steps is to stand tall. No matter what the height or the physical appearance, a leader should always maintain a good posture, which helps him/her being viewed as confident, vital, disciplined, proud, youthful, dignified and joyously alive.

A good posture does wonders, even at a physiological level by encouraging positive developments. The next important thing is to smile and retain the sense of humor no matter what. Keeping a smile on the face irrespective of the grim realities creates a positive flow of energy.

Step 5: Be Human, Humorous and Hands On
No matter at what level of hierarchy one is, `Be Human’ is a maxim that cannot be forgotten. It is the mark of a great leader too. To be human, one has to cease dealing role to role and seek affinity. It means the ability to `touch’ with heart, soul and mind regardless of rank, race, creed, color or power. The key is to develop affinity, share experiences and build trust.

Acting with affinity even when others don’t is the next step to be human. The author suggests an early start since it saves time and gives the impression of affinity right from the beginning of a relationship. She soon follows it up with a warning, `Don’t overdo it’. While building affinity is necessary and desirable, it does not mean getting too personal, which would be counterproductive.

Humor is an essential ingredient of executive charisma and successful leaders make their audiences laugh more than mediocre leaders. Humor breaks down barriers erected by title, position or role and provides instant communication, saves time in developing affinity and gets through difficult situations. Humor does not mean laughing at others or retelling mean jokes it means the ability to see the funny side of things, to keep one’s cool. Above all, it means being able to laugh at oneself.

In the same vein, leaders should also inculcate a storytelling ability, which helps them make their point more effectively and be retained for a longer duration. Touch, both literal and figurative, means to reach out, tear down defenses and build a bridge with physical contact. Many times, a pat can convey more than a hundred words. Here too, it should be kept in mind not to overdo it.

Step 6: Slow Down, Shut Up and Listen
Most executives, particularly those at the top rung of the corporate ladder, are always on the run. The last step of executive charisma recommends that they slow down, not that they should become lazy but surely not be hasty in their actions, decisions and so on. It is necessary to think before acting and a slow, controlled pace would help in making better decisions. It is also important to stop talking and start listening. Many times, there could be a very valid or important point that others want to make, which might be missed if the leader is carried away by his/ her own talk.

Many great leaders keep their ears to the ground and listen to suggestions coming from all levels across the organization. The ability to listen increases respect for the leader and also increases his acceptance among the executives.

These are the six broad steps to develop executive charisma. At the heart, they are rooted in common sense and bring out the better aspects of human nature into the role of a leader. The book is interesting with lots of examples drawn mainly from the consulting assignments of the author. Many a successful CEO has implemented and highly benefited from the use of these techniques. Though seemingly simple, their usefulness cannot in any way be undermined and consistent practice would yield valuable results.

To derive the full benefits of the steps, the CEO or executive who is implementing these techniques should be constantly alert and internalize them so that they become ingrained in the subconscious and the reactions become a second nature. Once these skills are acquired, it is all the more important that they are maintained and, hence the practice continues throughout one’s career or may be beyond it. Practicing all these skills continuously would surely add the missing link called `executive charisma’.

Mastering the Art of Leadership
If you’re like most people, you’ve worked really hard to get where you are in life. You’ve studied, labored, gone the extra mile, took on additional responsibility, continued your education, honed your instincts, developed sound judgment, retained your integrity, generated positive energy, assembled a top-notch staff. You have learned to sense and set direction, plan, budget, master problem-solving (both yours and everyone else’s), dress for success, achieve brilliance, and multitask out the kazoo.

Yet, despite all of that effort, you still haven’t received the significant success, the level of accountability, impact, or influence that you want. The imaginary line on the wall where you want to “leave your mark” isn’t high enough. As one person put it,”My name is not on the right door.”

You’re puzzled. What more can you do when you’ve done all you can? What you need to do is find the missing piece of the puzzlethe piece that turns you from a good executive into a great one. My company’s research has proven that piece is your “executive charisma”.

Executive Charisma is the ability to gain effective responses from others by using aware actions and considerate civility in order to get useful things done. Executive Charisma is a tangible thing. You know “it” when you see it. You remember times when you have had this intangible thing yourself.

Leaderswhether at work, in your community, and even in your familywho possess that missing piece are referred to as having interpersonal skills, shine, people skills, corporate chemistry, good “DNA”, social currency, emotional energy, the unwritten code of behavior, or “fit.”

You can think of people who have and use it well. They expect and give acceptance of others, use humor, touch, smile, stand tall, ask questions, ask favors, slow down, shut up, listen, abide by the Golden Rule, and truly bond up and down the ladder.

Super agent for celebrity athletes, Mark McCormack, says one of the most toxic lies in business is that, “We judge people on their performance. If this were true, the workplace would be a perfect meritocracy. The truth is more like, `We judge your performance based on how much we like you.’ People don’t get fired for not doing their jobs well. They get canned because someone in authority doesn’t like them. It’s that simple.”

According to a study done by Carnegie Foundation, Harvard University, and the Stanford Research Institute, “people skills” explain 85% of why we get, keep, and move ahead in our jobs. Our “technical competence” accounts for only 15%. In a different study reported on in Fortune of a diverse group of senior executives, three-fourths said interpersonal skills were the ones in highest demand and the ones most lacking.

No, the charisma I write about is not selfishly ratcheting yourself up the ladder. It is not celebrity over leadership, not self-aggrandizement, not style over substance, not success over character. Nor is it some mysteriously seductive shaman/messiah mix. It is not magic but it is a skill you can learn.

If you are the “CEO” of your family or if you’re in the corporate crowd at a C-level job (e.g. CEO, COO, CIO, CFO, CMO, CTO, CPO, CAO), or you want to be at that level, you need to get the missing piece. In addition to having the technical competence, as described in the first paragraph of this article, you’ll need to have the style, too. You’ll need to be memorable, impressive, credible, civil, clean-hearted, genuine, trusted, courageous, consistent, cool, calm, collected, confident, competent, and comfortable. That’s being charismatic.

“I see a lot of incredibly educated, super smart people who lack in street smarts and people skills. Some just don’t get interaction on a personal level” says venture capitalist, Gayle Crowell.

If it isn’t “you” to enhance your personal charisma, may be you should try being someone else. Regardless of where you are in your career, you can’t waste any more time without it.

Executive charisma is the last piece of the puzzle that you must apply to your life. It’s the best-kept secret in business. And there is no walk of life where it doesn’t apply.

Available at amazon: Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership

For more information please visit her website at: debrabenton.com

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2 Responses to “Executive Charisma – Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership”

  1. Nancy McCabe Says:

    Your insights are very valuable. Do you have the specific studies on “people skills” from the Carnegie Foundation, Harvard University, Stanford Research Institute and the Forbes article? I would love to see the original material.

    Thanks so much,

    Nancy McCabe

  2. Nacera Says:

    Thank you for this excellent article.
    I am suffering a lot about my lack of charisma at my work. Although i am very experienced project manager, some people see me as too timid as a result i am not getting the promotion/ salary increase i feel i deserve compared to my collegues. Even my mangers recognize my good job results, they always say that i am missing charisma with customers.

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