Friday, April 04, 2008


What Qualities Define 'Charisma'?

[sorry the pics are higgledy- piggledy but that's just the way they uploaded] I've always been intrigued by the concept of 'charisma'; it is at once so nebulous, individual and yet so powerful. Max Weber's definition was not all that helpful:

"resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him."

Put more prosaically, it's the 'wow' factor which some people have and others don't. When I walk into a room people carry on exactly as before, yet with others they stop, look and stare. What are the ingredients?

1. It helps to be tall and very good looking of course but ugly people are not excluded from having it- why else Hitler?

2. It is connected with what the person does: someone-like so many actors- can be charismatic on a stage but characterless in person- Peter Sellers?

3. It is connected with what people want to see to some extent; after all, the quality is only a function of perception.

Three people help to illustrate the idea.

Martin Johnson has just been appointed as England's rugby manager. The sports presenter described him as a man of 'immense charisma' and he was right. Rugby fans will recall from 2003 how his presence sent a thrill of confidence down their backs just as he sent a chill down those of his opponents. His size was probably the main factor but also that overhanging brow which shielded his eyes and gave him a brooding, menacing look. But as a politician, some experts reckon Abraham Lincoln, he of a similar overhanging brow, would never have made it in the television age as he would have looked like an extra in a horror film.

William Hague was ridiculed when he wore that baseball cap back in the late nineties and his callow appearance helped to sink his hopes of standing up to the definitely charismatic Blair. Yet now, bald of head, older and (much) wiser, author of a two masterly biographies as well as a thousand witty after dinner speeches, he definitely has that X factor.

Finally, to Bernie Ecclestone, seen here with his (much) taller wife Slavica in my picture, demonstrates a powerful sense of charisma absence. OK, so it's to do with looks and height but those of us who lack the magic quality can take heart that of the three men displayed, Bernie is by far the richest.


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