Whenever there’s a discussion of “what makes a great leader?” invariably the trait of “charisma” surfaces— that special “something” that is appealing and makes people want to follow that leader. I recently read something that helped me think about the ways in which leaders attract people to their cause.
The reading comes from an essay1 written by the late Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She says,
When I am asked about the important characteristics of leadership, being of good, positive mind is at the top of my list. Few people of good will are inspired to follow negative, pessimistic people. People with clear minds are like magnets.
We’ve all heard the phrase “magnetic personality”. If you think of the properties of a magnet, it provides a great metaphor for leadership. Some magnets have a very strong “pull” and remain magnetic even when there is no magnetic field surrounding them. Others are temporary magnets (think paper clips)—they are only magnetic when they’re exposed to a strong magnetic field.
People who are positive—have the “clear mind” that Ms. Mankiller alludes to—in my mind, those are “permanent” magnets. No matter what the circumstance, they find the “possible” in any situation. By contrast, leaders who are pessimists operate like temporary magnets—strong when things are going well, but losing that “pull” through negativity when the going gets tough.
In keeping with the magnetic metaphor for leadership—
In what ways do you see a connection to leadership and magnetism?
How does keeping a clear mind help when leading people?
1 The Right Words at the Right Time, p. 206
Photo credit: istockphoto.com
Art Petty says
Jennifer, great post and always a fascinating topic. A related phrase that is oft mentioned but rarely described to anyone’s satisfaction is: executive presence. I recently had a chance to bring the senior executives of a Fortune 50 firm into a program for their senior managers and the topic was this issue of presence…and certainly the magnetism or charisma that you are referencing, The execs came through at different times and to a person, the notion of “authenticity” was highlighted as a critical attribute for achieving this presence/magnetism. I have no doubt that being yourself…letting others see you for who you are…and being positive are essential ingredients in this mix. Best, -Art
Jennifer V. Miller says
Thanks for offering up “executive presence” as another example where authenticity is key. As long as we’re clear that we’re talking about “executive presence” and not “executive presents” 🙂 I’m thinking there’s a blog post in that one!