Charisma comes in different flavours and styles, and absolutely experiences fluctuation in fashion. Like most kind of fashions, the “fashionable” characteristics that make us consider one person or another charismatic are both a reflection and creation of our current culture. Different social cultures – and I apply the term “culture” to both small groups, self-selected tribes, our larger society, and everything within that span – will deem different personal characteristics desirable.
Herein lies the real crux of what charisma is (and you will have to forgive me if I become a bit blathery): it cannot be defined or possessed by the charismatic individual; rather, it is a quality given to the individual by the people around him/her. Charisma is all about the audience’s perception, and it is the audience that will define what qualities are charismatic. It isn’t a title you claim, it’s a title you are granted by everyone but yourself.
That’s why the idea of charisma can be subject to the fashions of the time and the audience. A soft-voiced old soul speaking with passion on socially conscious business (let’s call him Jim) may be exceptionally charismatic to an audience of people interested in global do-gooding. The audience is riveted by Jim’s quiet strength, compassionate air, and slow thoughtfulness. They want him to lead them in their next world-mending conquest and would give their right arms to work with him.
Jim then gives a speech to a crowd of venture capital moguls at a large conference. His talk is packed with useful content that is highly relevant to the crowd, and they appreciate his point of view. But afterwards, none of them call Jim charismatic. This group would quickly and happily fall in line to partner with Dana, the next speaker, who radiates in-your-face confidence, speaks loudly and quickly, and demonstrates a bold, rapid decision-making style. The audience goes crazy for Dana – they’ll give her a standard and hold her up at the “It Person” at the conference. She is highly charismatic to this group of people. She fits their current attitudinal trend and fashion in terms of personality.
Charismatic fashion can be dictated by broader cultural context. The aggressive up-all-night Wall Street prodigy fascinated people in the economic rush of the 1980s. The bespectacled chic geek had a charismatic edge during the dot com boom. Today, it may be socially conscious Jim, who balances his fervour for helping with an approachable aesthetic in slightly worn shoes and a collared shirt without a tie.
Is the cultural fashion du jour the only determinant of charisma? Heavens, no. But it is a factor that should always be born in mind.
What makes someone “charismatic” for you? Have you observed any sorts of fashions in aesthetic or personality or style that seem to affect whether people consider someone charismatic? Leave a comment below and let’s talk!
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