Don’t Stop Here

How To Add Charm To Your Leadership

What is charm? That is a question that scholar and author Joseph Epstein tackles in his delightful book, Charm: The Elusive Enchantment. Aptly the title sets up the pursuit of what charm is and what it means to us. Charm, by definition, is undefinable, which can be a problem if you are attempting to devote an entire book to the subject.

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Not so for as skilled a writer-essayist as Epstein because he presents many different aspects of charm through anecdote and story that illuminate charm in all its dimensions. 

Charm is, as noted in the subtitle, elusive. It is, as noted, elusive. Why? Because charm is something we feel emotionally in the presence of others, we sometimes lack the words to describe it. As Epstein notes, we are charmed by music, paintings, and of course, movies which, for many of us of depending upon our ages, define what charm is. Charlie Chaplin. Mary Pickford. Cary Grant. Kathryn Hepburn. Jimmy Stewart. Grace Kelly. Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. And on and on. 

Charm is intrinsic to an appeal that leaders exude. Some like Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan had it in spades. Others, like Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson, did not. There, too, is a dark side to charm. Think of mobsters who live outside the law; their public persona has a Rabelaisian effect. They seduce rather than persuade. And it is in the seduction that followers lose themselves, and not for the better.

Charm, in a leaderly way, is best presented as a positive. To me, charm comes from living and doing outside of yourself. Charisma is often confused with charm. And in some ways, the two are intertwined. Both are appealing, and both make beholders feel that the individual is someone special. To me, there is a distinction. Charisma is an outward appearance. Charm is an inward appeal. One is given; the other can be earned.

Make charming connections

Taken to another level, leaders, whether they have charisma or not, can learn to cultivate charm. How? By focusing on the needs of others. Let me offer some suggestions—all of which are doable and necessary when speaking via video chat.

Greeting. Small talk goes a long way when the speaker is the person in charge. Ask people how they are doing. Engage them in topics relevant to them. 

Listening. Look at the person who addresses you. Relax your facial muscles. Lookat them, not past them. Focus as best as you can. 

Following up. After you get to know someone, follow up with the person when you see them. Ask about things important to them: work, family, hobbies. It demonstrates that you are willing to connect. 

Very important, speak and listen as if you mean it. If you fidget and seem distracted, it undercuts whatever you say. When you need to take leave, do it simply and sincerely.

A dark side

As noted, there is a dark side to charm. Charmers can be manipulators. They can use their ability to connect to induce followers to do something that will be in the interest of the charmer, but perhaps not the individual.

We see this kind of behavior in businesses, often where people cross the line into bad behavior. The classic example of this was Enron, the high-flying energy company directed by a charismatic and charming individual, Ken Lay. Son of a Baptist preacher, Lay could speak in platitudes and draw people to him. He eventually induced them to commit fraud, not directly for him but for Enron.

The check against negative charm is your willpower. Yes, you may like someone, even admire the person, but why? If it’s because they make YOU feel better to SERVE them, there is an issue.

Natural charm is honest and seeks nothing for the charmer; it focuses on making people feel connected and part of an organization that works on goals greater than itself.

In the final chapter, titled, “Charm-Who Needs It?” Epstein writes:

“Charm will not feed the hungry, end wars, fight evil, yet I happen to believe that the lives of almost all of us are the better for encountering charm…[It] provides… a form of necessary relief—relief from the doldrums of, the drab everydayness of life… Charm widens the lens, heightens the color of life, intensifies and sweetens it… We can, of course, all live without it. What a great pity, though, to do so.”

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