The Charismatic Leader
By James Sale
If you ask yourself the question who is the most charismatic person – and so leader, for charismatic people always lead and influence – who ever lived, then I think any sane list is bound to contain somewhere in its top five the name Jesus Christ. There are many debatable and disputable aspects of Christ’s existence, and more especially the Church’s interpretation of his life. For example, we may dispute whether he was or is the Son of God, whether he rose from the dead literally or symbolically, or whether even he actually performed any miracles at all. Yes, we can – and people have – argued over all these things. But can one seriously argue that Jesus Christ was not charismatic – in fact, charismatic on a scarcely imaginable scale? The testimonies from witnesses of the time all speak of it; it was a most noticeable feature of his presence and his speaking. Further, and perhaps more importantly still, the effect of his charisma is evident in his mark on all subsequent history since.
And what is this charisma? Today we mean by it any personality who seems to be inspired and influential; the original meaning referred to a gift or grace of God manifesting itself through a person, so that they became irresistibly powerful. Either way, one curious anomaly about charisma is that part of its power seems to stem from the sense of authenticity that it conveys; this is curious in that the source of the power is not in the person them self, but runs through them – almost externally as it were, and yet is so part of them it seems entirely them!
This charismatic power is authentic, compelling and sincere; we see many examples of people pretending to be charismatic, but who are engaged with a box of rhetorical tricks, and the charisma is only superficial and ultimately deceptive. This latter situation we need to avoid, but at the same time we should all want to be charismatic because being inspired is better than not. For one thing, it feels so good, because charisma is really outside of time, and so one is only and really present when one is being charismatic. And being charismatic is precisely that: the energy, the power, the source is always there, and available to being, and we need to tap into it and not get lost along the way as so many do.
But we need to understand too that charisma has a deadly enemy, and this we find all too readily in the real world: position and position power. Position power is the role you acquire in life that gives you ‘power’. Being a mother or father is a position – albeit weakened in its significance in the West – that gives power. More specifically, we are all aware that the vicar, the doctor, the nurse, the teacher, the manager, the MD, the CEO and so on all have position power. Everywhere we go we find people in positions of power, and often using that power to curb us in some way. And position power seems to loathe charismatic power, and very rarely are the two fused in one. An historical example of someone who had both would be Alexander the Great. Indeed, the combination dangerously expresses itself via military tyrants.
But to return to Christ we find written about him the quite specific remit that he abjured position power and seems solely to have relied on charismatic power. This is shown in a number of ways: his refusal to accept the crown of kingship that the crowd offered him and resort to force; and also too, for the theologically minded, there is that wonderful passage in Philippians 2.6 in which it’s said that Christ did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but instead “emptied Himself” and became a man, a servant. Put another way, Christ did not go around telling people what to do because he had a higher position than they; he eschewed that whole methodology – on which the rest of the world works.
Because, of course, we see what happens to the charismatic person. First, the highest authority condemns you, as Pontius Pilate condemned Christ. The lower authority has already condemned you of course: these were the Pharisees and the Scribes. They had positional power but also something extra, which Christ upset: expert power. To them was entrusted the law and its interpretation – how things should be done – and without being a pedant, Christ charismatically demolished their arguments.
Now here’s the really terrible thing: charismatic power meant even his own family tried to stop him, thought he was mad. So what about his disciples? Yep, they too also knew better, and it was to Peter that the most stinging rebuke of all was directed: “Get behind me Satan”.
Charismatic power is like the wind – it blows where it wants to, and how it wants to; it has a source we do not know, and it convicts like a blast furnace. It destroys our comfort and our illusions about our little life – it asks for more. When Pericles spoke men applauded; when Demosthenes spoke, they marched. Who, then, was the charismatic one?
This is not something they teach us on an MBA course; this is not something with an easy agenda, yet for those with eyes to see, and ears to hear, there it is, available to each and every one of us, right now. So embrace it – and remember, those in position who won’t it and won’t like you! You are the agent of change when you are charismatic.
James Sale is an inspiring public speaker. He is the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps and other original people and management diagnostic tools. You can check James’ business here or you can call him directly at: +44 (0) 1202 513043.