Saturday, September 22, 2007

Find Your Charisma with a Cause That Makes a Bigger "You" Show Up

Charisma, that ethereal and desirable quality of effective leadership, is not easy to come by, so goes conventional wisdom. Many believe, “you either have it or you don’t”. Black or white.

But, here’s another take on the subject: passionate leaders who are fuelled by a “cause” do emanate a charm and a light that people pay attention to. That lightness of being, so to speak, provided it is directed at the common good, can be characterized as “charisma”. Following this reasoning, the quality is more possible for a greater number of us than conventional wisdom implies.

The idea is easily applied to well-known historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa. More recently we’ve come to know about William Wilberforce through the book and movie Amazing Grace. Over 20 years he campaigned tirelessly to end British slave trade and did so in 1807. No one would disagree that these leaders were driven by a cause. Without the cause, where would they be in our collective psyche? Likely much diminished.

In time, historians will count a number of contemporary leaders as “charismatic” because of a cause beyond themselves. Their relentless focus on a specific problem to be resolved, despite the odds stacked against them, will be increasingly compelling for influential decision makers to support. Examples include Stephen Lewis in his tireless campaign to prevent, treat and reduce AIDs in Africa; Romeo Dallaire with his pursuit of justice and peace for Rawanda and David Suzuki for soldiering on about the environment over his professional lifetime and not skipping a beat when Al Gore gets more press coverage.

We are fortunate to be inspired by such leaders. Ultimately, all are cause-driven. It is at the core of their being. As ethicist Margaret Somerville from McGill University emphasizes, “deep integrity, sensibility, compassion, caring and courage” are some of the vital characteristics that distinguish them as leaders.

Throughout history, such leadership is better known locally than widely—this is the nature of the media and our human evolution. There are more unsung “heroes” who strive to make our communities and organizations better places to be than those written up in our various media channels. Being famous, however, is irrelevant in the context of cause-driven leadership.

Imagine if more of us took a deeper look then at why we exist, what our purpose is? Mediocrity would have a hard time existing, finding itself trumped by greatness at every turn!

Henry-David Thoreau mused in his famous essay, Civil Disobedience that it doesn’t matter how small the beginning for a cause. He exclaimed: “What is done well is done forever”.

Let’s take Thoreau on and allow our “bigger selves” to show up in our workplaces. Some great results will follow.

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