Charisma and the ability to charm; these are traits that are held naturally by some, and are not easily learnt (if it is at all possible to learn them). When is it advantageous for an individual to possess charisma? Most of the time you can probably say that at the very least it does not hurt-and potentially can help a lot. Lower advantage jobs: Engineer, accountant, mathematical sciences, farmer, bus driver, prop trader. Higher advantage jobs: Health worker, management consultant, estate agent, teacher, lawyer, singer. The former list places a greater emphasis on technical work, the latter on selling something – a product, a property, an idea, confidence, or simply your own self as a brand. I’m sure that most of you can see where this is going; when is charisma good for the client? Most of us wouldn’t care if the engineers that designed our ‘planes are social retards, we just don’t want to fall out of the sky. For a teacher, having charisma means they can more easily engage the pupils, and that’s a good thing for the client (where client = pupil and parents of pupil, society, industry). A singer or musician is more entertaining and enjoyable if they have charisma to project (perhaps sometimes referred to as “soul”), so again+1 for client. For a health worker, it can go both ways. Doctors and nurses need to be able to read patients, and temper their anxieties (+1), but I don’t want to be swayed into buying a treatment that I don’t need (-1). Estate agents, other types of salesman(-100) , and often lawyers (-10) are notorious. Yet it’s their charisma, their ability to convince us and influence us that can make or break them. Charisma in this case can lead to injustices, especially in a criminal trial where the wrong outcome often has far more serious consequences than what the no-win-no-fee ambulance chasers can inflict.
What is hinted in the above is that people with charisma and charm, can often influence us (the client) to do things that are advantageous for them, but not necessarily for us. It seems quite obvious, and we are even perhaps wary of it in some cases, but when it comes to politicians, we seem to actually go against our best interest and laud charisma as a character trait, and we praise it quite explicitly. Why do we like charisma in our politicians? When Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as PM, much was made about his lack of charm and charisma, how Cameron would eat him up on Wednesdays, and in fact, how he was just pain boring. Weren’t we all complaining about TB misleading us about WMD and taking us into war we didn’t want? Would Brown have ever managed that even if he wanted to? We vote for politicians who exude confidence, who are charming, handsome and charismatic. We empower the manipulators and then complain about being manipulated.
I would posit than generally speaking, charm and charisma is something we should not be looking for in our political leaders. Politicians should generally be seen as public servants – they do a job, they wear a suit, they get paid. They are like accountants. The problem with succumbing to the charms of leaders is that we close our eyes to their mistakes and their nefarious intentions. We make excuses for them because we attach sentiment to them. We exaggerate their achievements and credit them with achievements that are not theirs. This works for revolutionaries – they need to do much more than public service, they often have to inflame peoples’ passions or over turn a collective mind-set. However, revolutionaries are often the end of one bad regime and almost as often the beginning of another. With democratic institutions, we need to shift our mentalities away from personality cults that are built by extremely charismatic people and think in terms of faceless, soul-less institutions; organisations like the professional services of the city of London that dot the t’s and cross the i’s. We should not get so attached to the face of a government that we make excuses for them when they have run out of excuses.