Do You Have Charisma?

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Introducing Pepper, the pigeon who came to stay.

by Neva Bodin

Because I belong to the Casper Posse of Westerners, (a local group that promotes interest and researches history on the Old West), I am reading a book recommended by them called With Custer’s Cavalry by Katherine Gibson Fougera, copyright 1940, renewed copyright 1968 by the author. She married a Lieutenant in General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry and traveled with them. Her sister was also married to a member of that Cavalry. And she knew General Custer and his wife, Elizabeth. I recommend this book. Her writing is superb.

There is much written about Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, occurring in 1876. He apparently had charisma, something many leaders of people—good and bad—have. What is this quality that can lead others to greatness or death?

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General George Armstrong Custer known as Autie to his family

Merriam-webster.com defines charisma as:

“1:  a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader)

2:  a special magnetic charm or appeal <the charisma of a popular actor>”

While this is a definition for charisma, what constitutes this magnetic charm or appeal?

Who would not want to have it? Ms. Fougera describes Custer in her book: “…he was so distinctive. Tall, almost boyishly slender, he sat his saddle as though born to it. Golden curls, matching the yellow broadcloth stripes which ran down the sides of his blue trousers and were tucked in at the knees into troop boots, tumbled rebelliously from under a wide-brimmed white felt hat, shading keen, blue eyes that moved with a flash rather than a glance about him. A tawny mustache bordered his mouth. The thin, florid face, though not handsome, was singularly arresting, for it glowed with an expression of combined vitality and recklessness.” (Page 77)

I wonder if people who have charisma have a quality that each of us recognize, subconsciously, and which we would like to emulate? So we follow them. Do we hope to achieve that quality by following them?

jim_jones_in_front_of_the_international_hotel

Reverend Jim Jones at a protest in front of the International Hotel, 848 Kearny Street in San Francisco in 1977. Photo by Nancy Wong

How did James Warren Jones, cult leader, inspire possibly 900+ people to commit suicide by cyanide in 1978, killing approximately 300 or so (according to some sources) children? I have listened to part of the tape he made as he explained to the people why they must die. Chilling now, but at the time he sounded so sure and sincere. Described in an article by one of his followers who left the cult prior to the mass suicide, he was passionate and idealistic about his beliefs.

What does that say about our wish to follow others? Are we so insecure that we attach to someone who is secure? Even if, like lemmings, we are following someone to self-destruction?

Heavy thoughts when I really only started out wondering how to make a character in a story charismatic. There are websites instructing how to attain charisma. They list presence, self-confidence, and living with a purpose.

One website cited Marilyn Monroe, demonstrating to a photographer in public how she could be Norma Jean Baker, (her real name) and not noticed, or become Marilyn Monroe simply by striking a pose and cause people to stop and take a second look.

Mary Kay, founder of one of the biggest skin care companies, told those of us known as Independent Beauty Consultants, to make others feel important. Giving others your attention, showing you truly care and focusing on them instead of yourself, attracts people to you.

Charisma, a quality to attain for ourselves, and for our characters. With it, goals can be accomplished.

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16 Responses to Do You Have Charisma?

  1. kathywaller says:

    That’s an interesting question. The first time I heard the word was about Robert Kennedy, when he was running for president. I don’t have charisma. I’m pretty bland. Although I have been told that people notice when I walk into a room (I don’t know why). I think my characters do all right, though.

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  2. Mike Staton says:

    Reminds me of the days when I played Dungeons & Dragons with a group of mostly newspaper friends in my Florida days. Before we’d start a campaign, we’d roll to determine the characteristics of our characters — if we were going to use new characters. The numbers could be between 1 and 18 for attributes like strength, stamina, speed, looks, and charisma. You could exchange numbers if you thought one was too low. You need charisma to gather followers and to convince enemies to not beat you up or even kill you. Sometimes, if charisma was too low, it was better to reduce strength or good looks to get it higher. Too bad we can’t do that in real life. Lol.

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      That’s interesting! And, while I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, it sounds like you made it fun and challenging to play. And recognized the power of charisma. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I may have good leadership skills, but I definitely don’t have charisma. This was an interesting post.

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  4. Nancy Jardine says:

    Neva- I think charisma isn’t really something that can be acquired or learned. How and why, I don’t know, but there are some people who are naturally charismatic to others- perhaps because the followers need a strong reaction to the person to make them feel complete. I also think that following anything (or anyone) that is confining and narrowing without questioning it, isn’t done by the more rational among us. Many people are more easily influenced than others who are resistant to being subsumed by charismatically dangerous people, who for whatever reasons can lead them into serious situations.

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      I agree that natural charisma happens. To acquire or learn it, I think the person must change their inner thought process towards others maybe, or it is acting, because I think genuinely caring about others can make a person charismatic. And there are definitely people more easily led by others, and perhaps we are all more easily led at different stages or places in our life journey. Thanks for the comment and the thought you put into it.

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  5. Interesting post Neva. I think there are “great” people who had Charisma (Abe Lincoln, John F. Kennedy come to mind) and then there are “normal” people who have charisma, maybe not quite as much or as defined as those who are popular. Some of may even have charisma and not realize it, thinking they just have lots of friends. I like your way of looking at this subject and it does cause one to stop and think. Is it charisma or not? I don’t think many of us ask this question of ourselves, but friends and family may think so. Fodder for thought!

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      It is something to ponder isn’t it? Are we born with it–great or not–or can we acquire it? I’m not sure either, but evidently some think it can be acquired. Thanks for the interesting comment.

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  6. Doris says:

    A most interesting concept to grab hold of. I also wonder if charisma works on some and not others? I shall ponder this, and see where I end up. Thank you for taking the time to help explore an intangible concept. Doris

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      It is kind of elusive when you think about it. It’s like trying to define love maybe. And I like your questions as to whether it works on all or just some? You’ve given me food for thought. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Gayle Irwin says:

    Intriguing post, Neva, with much to ponder. I think, too, of Charles Manson, Hitler, and others who did much the same as Jim Jones — scary! But, then, there’s the good part, as you pointed out. Interesting to think how to put such a trait into a story character. Thanks for sharing such a great post!

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  8. Charisma does tend to be utilized for good or for bad, as is the case with Jim Jones and Manson. I think many people like to feel included and part of something “big” and this is what charismatic leaders can promise (whether they can follow through is another story). I love how your initial curiosity on how to make a character charismatic ended up being an entire blog post! Thanks for the fun read, Neva.

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  9. Definitely working on obtaining that charisma. To obtain it is a powerful step in an upward direction. True it could hurt you or help you. One must learn how to turn it off and on quickly or the results could be catastrophic. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post. I never thought as charisma as something that could be obtained. I just thought you either had it or you didn’t. Thanks for sharing

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