How to switch on the power to move mountains

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The Independent Culture
According to Joanna Kozubska, there are seven key attributes to charisma, and everyone can acquire them. But it's not all good news: Hitler is an example of what happens when charisma goes wrong. Jack O'Sullivan learns to sparkle in safety

Princess Diana obviously had it. So did Marilyn Monroe and Mother Theresa. Likewise Margaret Thatcher. Nelson Mandela is a brilliant practitioner of it. Tony Blair increasingly seems to be gaining it. William Hague? Well maybe, in time. Cedric Brown? Never.

Charisma is a gift, as the Greeks understood, when they coined the term "kharis", meaning grace or favour. Many long for it, few are blessed. It's the quality that can persuade the sane to join battle and face almost certain death and it is the glue that holds many businesses together. It is often, as Max Weber, the German social scientist, argued in the Twenties, a result of social crisis and desperation. Without it, Hitler would have been unable to start the Second World War and Churchill might not have secured victory.

So like the alchemists' obsession with gold, students of leadership seek to distill its essence. The latest attempt is by management writer Joanna Kozubska, who reckons to have identified the traits vital to creating an electric personality which can charge a nation. The seven keys are, she says, confidence, vision, communication, style, the capacity to make things happen, visibility and an enduring sense of enigma.

Commonsense, say I. But how do we get such attributes? "We all have these qualities to some extent," she explains. "It's just that the really obvious charismatics have them in abundance." As if to emphasise the difference between these exceptional figures and the rest of us, we're sitting in the palatial surroundings of a London club in Pall Mall, the rather homely figure of Ms Kozubska set against a towering statue of the grand old Duke of York. It isn't difficult to appreciate why he and not I could march them up to the top of the hill and march them down again.

It is, however, encouraging to hear Ms Kozubska, 51 and almost grandmotherly despite her businesslike grey trouser suit, describe herself as occasionally charismatic. "It's like a dimmer switch," she says. "You can turn it up or turn it down. I can turn my switch up when I'm running a management programme or at a speaking engagement. I know how to walk into a lecture theatre and get everyone to be quiet without saying a word. That's charisma. Then again, I've got friends who think I'm not charismatic at all.

"Working at it is important. Voice is vital - its tone, colour energy and enthusiasm. It isn't the words that matter, it's the way you use them. Good charismatics will always express themselves with a warmth." As Mae West once declared: "It's not what I do, but how I do it. It's not what I say, but how I say it."

Many of the charismatics' qualities are innate, believes Kozubska. "I think we're born with them. Newly born babies have amazing confidence and energy. But very often the experience of childhood and school pushes it out of us. So, when we get to a adulthood, we have to find our confidence again."

So, how, I ask, do we begin to reconstruct the adult charismatic? Kozubska's book is full of practical suggestions. To gain confidence, you must get to know yourself well and lose any illusions. For that vision thing, she advises writing your own obituary so you know what you want to achieve in life. If you need to learn how to communicate better then focus on expressing your passions, feelings and enthusiasm. And lighten up - most charismatics are very good-humoured.

To be stylish, you have to love what you do and be brave about being different. "Charismatic individuals often look different," she says. "Michael Heseltine's flowing locks, Sir John Harvey Jones's flamboyant ties, Edwina Currie's brilliant colours, Evelyn Glennie's skin-tight outfits, Nigel Kennedy's earring and Richard Branson's woolly pullovers suggest that anything goes."

Making things happen more effectively requires that you verbalise and share your dreams, sharpen your team skills and work at what you really want to do. Gaining visibility demands that you express your views assertively and always treat others with respect. (Making the tea is considered a good start, reckons Ms Kozubska). And finally, there is the need to preserve a little mystery about yourself. So the advice is to avoid too much familiarity and listen twice as much as you speak.

This guide to success comes, however, with a health warning. If you do too well, you may get the sack. "Charismatics don't toe the line," warns Kozubska. "They always have their own ideas and want to do things differently. Often that will be against what the senior management wants. The easiest thing is to show them the door so that they don't rock the boat. Companies tend to get rid of people who are different. A lot of women will stand up and be counted, say `no', be marginalised as a result and leave to start new, often rival businesses."

Joanna Kozubska's other concern about charismatics is that many are hard to live with. "My research suggests there are two kinds. There are the personalised charismatics, people with a vision, but it's their own vision and no one else influences them. Hitler was one of them. So was Robert Maxwell and Chris Brain of the Nine O'clock Service. I contrast these with the socialised charismatics. These are the good guys, who have an energy, enthusiasm and a vision, but share that vision with other people so that others have the chance to contribute."

In many ways, the book is about Joanna Kozubska coming to terms with being the daughter of a "personalised" variety of the species. A Polish war hero, her father was, she says, "not enthusiastic about other people. He had his own vision and that is what he sought to achieve and what drove him. Families have a hard time with people like him. They tend to be sacrificed to that vision. Robert Maxwell was the same, as you can tell from some of the material written by his sons."

Though a fan of healthy charisma, she is a fierce critic of the bad employers that the "personalised" type sometimes produces. "The impossible charismatic boss", she says, "is not concerned about the people he leads. He is concerned only with his own ambitions and will step on anyone who gets in the way of them. He does not create environments in which other people can blossom. We read so much about bullies in the office these days. These people should be isolated. We have to have the courage to stand up and say `no' to them."

`The 7 Keys of Charisma: Unlocking the secrets of those who have it' by Joanna Kozubska, is published by Kogan Page, pounds 12.99.


1: Rate your self-confidence. If the score is less than five out of 10, then you may be disappointed.

2: Do you have professional or personal goals? If you find yourself saying you don't know what you want to do, then you are probably not charismatic.

3: Ask other people to rate you as a communicator. You'll need a high score.

4: Do you do things your own way or slavishly copy others? Have you got the guts to turn up to a black tie dinner in a red tie and pink waistcoat? A real charismatic would.

5 Are you good at initiating change and making it happen? If not, then you're not among the movers and shakers.

6 Are you visible? Do you like being part of the crowd or do you want to be different? Check what your friends think. A charismatic person always stands out.

7 Do you tell people everything about yourself or do you keep some parts of yourself private and mysterious? Study the problems of the Royal Family and you will recognise that loss of enigma kills charisma.

8 When you wake up in the morning, are you excited and energetic? You will need a lot of enthusiasm for life to be a leader.

9 How passionate are you, not just about your dreams but everything? There is nothing lukewarm about the potential leader.

10 Ask colleagues and friends to rate how interested you are in other people. Concern for others characterises the great figures, from Nelson Mandela to Princess Diana.