Tapping into the Not-So-Secret Ingredient of Transformational Leadership

In the daily grind of captaining an early-stage company, it’s easy for CEOs and founders to get lost in the numbers. After all, they’ve been told they can’t manage what they can’t measure. So, budgets, projections, sales, key performance indicators, and burn rate swirl around in their brains as they scramble to hit the next value inflection point. As active managers of our portfolio companies, we encourage our teams to measure what matters, espousing legendary investor John Doerr’s Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) as the path to operational and organizational excellence.

But, focusing only on what you can objectively measure is leading with your blinders on. What distinguishes good leadership from great or even transformational leadership is something that is difficult, if not impossible, to measure — charisma.

A many-splendored thing

Charisma is an elusive quality. While we may struggle to define what draws us to people who have it, we know it when we see or feel it. Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs had it. Barack Obama and Elon Musk have it. And, so can you.

Each of these leaders is associated with a unique manifestation of charisma. But what they all share is the ability to communicate a clear, inspirational, often visionary message that captivates and motivates those around them.

Fundamentally, charisma is the intersection of the art of influence and the science of persuasion, comprised of a blend of techniques Aristotle described as:

· Logos, or persuading through logic by using powerful, well-reasoned arguments and rhetoric.

· Ethos, or establishing personal and ethical credibility through empathy and conviction.

· Pathos, or appealing to the emotions through stories, metaphors, tones of voice, and gestures or facial expressions.

Those who master these three techniques become alchemists who transform their listeners by tapping into their hopes and ideals, creating a shared sense of purpose, and inspiring them to achieve. This is exactly what early-stage CEOs and founders need — the ability to rouse employees and investors to jump on board with their vision for a better future.

Learning charisma

I used to think charisma was something you were born with, like blue eyes or the ability to roll your tongue (which it turns out is something of a genetic myth). Just as tongue-rolling isn’t innate, neither is charisma. Aspects of charisma can be learned and anyone can be trained in “charismatic leadership tactics” that help them become more influential, trustworthy, and “leaderlike.” For tips on mastering this seemingly magical mix of art and science, check out Olivia Fax Cabane’s The Charisma Myth.

Like all new skills, this approach to leadership strengthens with repetition and practice.

Of course, charisma cannot stand alone in the quest for positive change. Many a villain and cult leader have built a following on charisma. Transformational leaders combine charisma with a moral compass, the means to execute, and…a keen eye for recognizing and measuring what matters. So, bulk up on your charisma and flex it as a force for good.

Written by June Chen



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