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Nikki Owen

An Audience with Charisma

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Blog: US election – The need for charismatic leaders during times of austerity


“I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

My Vision by Barack Obama.
In Chicago last week a rejuvenated and inspired Barack Obama promised the cheering crowd that ‘The best is yet to come’. But across America – and across the world – people are quietly asking: “Is it really?”
If Mr. Obama was elected in 2008 on a tide of idealistic and unrealistic hope, this time round he was surely re-elected to confront a set of gritty and very specific issues.
Mr Obama won the Electoral Colleges by 100 votes, but the popular vote by just one percent. America is, in terms of engagement, at best neutral and, at worst, outside the cities and away from the coasts, much of the conservative heart is actively disengaged.
Elsewhere this week, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published their Autumn 2012 ‘Employee Outlook’ report. With regard to engagement in the UK, the report shows that the majority of respondents (59%) remain neutral – being neither engaged or disengaged.
The report went on to show that just 32% of staff with neutral levels of engagement and just 18% of disengaged employees feel that their personal values match those of the organisation.
Charismatic leadership
More than a fifth of respondents cite the importance of all managers, from the chief executive down to line managers, role-modelling the values of the organisation if values are to influence employee behaviour.
As leaders there is much that we can learn from Mr Obama and Presidents of the past.
History suggests that the presidents with the most impressive legacies are those who faced the most pressing problems and overcame them: Abraham Lincoln, elected on the eve of The Civil War, Ronald Regan, who battled double-digit inflation and a freezing Cold War, and, probably most relevant of all in these difficult economic times, Franklin D Roosevelt, re-elected in the teeth of The Great Depression. Mr Roosevelt won, and went on to greatness.
In a tough economy as organisations introduce change initiatives to streamline processes, as employees are being tasked to achieve more with fewer resources, and as demands and pressures increasingly become a burden of anxiety, many organisations are recognising that charismatic leadership is becoming vitally important to building engagement, and to sustain success.  
In the UK, as in the USA, people recognise and understand that there are tough times ahead. Employees may all understand the need for austerity measures, belt tightening, and even job losses, but at the same time will be feeling anxiety, concern and fear.
At a time when so many of us are worried and uncertain about what the future holds, is it any surprise that we are looking for somebody to believe in, somebody who has a clear vision of the better place – somebody to follow.
Last week, in his acceptance speech Mr Obama gave a brilliant demonstration of charismatic leadership at it’s very best. By matching and mirroring the mood and concerns of a Nation he showed great empathy and sensory awareness, and he showed that his values are just the same as ours.
Having vision
He talked about stubbornness and the courage to keep reaching, and in so doing demonstrated high energy and driving force.
By his use of the words, belief and hope, and by talking about ‘that something better that awaits us’, he showed America, and The World, that he had that all important vision of the way forward, from austerity to prosperity – from survival to growth.

Remembrance Sunday was the day traditionally put aside to remember all those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom we enjoy today. On this day across the nation people pause to reflect on the sacrifices made by our brave Service men and women. 

It is a fitting time too to remember what can be achieved, against all odds, when a nation rallies behind a truly charismatic leader:
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Today and in the days ahead, I would urge you all to think about the people that look to you for direction, and vision and hope. To what extent do they feel that you understand their fears and share their values? What do you do each day to help build their confidence and self-esteem?
How would you rate yourself in terms of your role-model behaviour, driving force and charismatic leadership? Would you feel inspired and excited to follow somebody like you?
Nikki Owen is a charisma expert with An Audience with Charisma.

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One Response

  1. Time will Determine Presidents Obama’s Charisma

    As a researcher on charismatic leadership, President Obama has charismatic affectations, but may not be a true charismatic leader, like a President Bill Clinton. His post election speech represented a rehashing of his campaign message, but not necessarily a recitation of a compelling vision. No, President Obama "out marketed" Governor Romney to characterize Romney as a villain against a populous cause–to protect the average American. This is not the message of a charismatc leader, but the staving off of a formidable opponent.  A one percent popular vote majority is not emblematic of a charismatic leader.

    However, I did vote for President Obama largely because Governor Romney never made a compelling case that separated himself from the Obama Administration. Neither candidate demonstrated Kennedy, Reagan, or Clinton like resolve. But, Obama was the lesser of the two evils. Charismatic leaders do not come around too often on the world stage. When we see one, we are awe-struck even if we can’t fully appreciate a compelling vision that resonates with the will of the people, but might still be risky.

    Edward Brown, M.S.

    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute

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