In my earlier post about charisma, I mentioned that fewer women seemed to have charisma than men. I can think of three charismatic women:

  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Sarah Palin
  • Margaret Thatcher 

I’m sure there are others but these are the only ones that spring readily to mind. (And Thatcher only came to mind because she’s on the Wikipedia list) In addition, one might claim numerous actresses and singers as charismatic, but I’m not going to include them because I suspect that such people are capable of “faking” charisma by carefully controlling the concerts they perform at, and the films in which they appear. Politicians and Royalty have no such luxuries.
Now, I offered one explanation for why women don’t seem to be, on average, as charismatic as men. The explanations of sexism is a good one, but there are several variants even on that one explanation:

  1. Women are not accepted by men in the role of leaders, even if they are charismatic. This might be true, but charisma has a way of overriding many other complaints one might make about a person. This is the reason charisma is such an asset. I fail to see why it shouldn’t also override gender roles.
  2. Physical attractiveness, an important element of charisma, is more rigidly defined for women than for men. In other words,  a woman must be prettier than the average woman to be charismatic than a man must be more handsome than the average man. The simplest way of phrasing this is: men, as a group, are shallow. 
  3. Charismatic tendencies are discouraged in girls from a young age. Related to first point.
  4. Biological differences. I can’t imagine what these would be, but I can’t rule out the possibility.

I’m sure there are other explanations. I encourage readers to post other explanations in the comments. Also, if anybody can provide examples of non-actress, non-singer women who are/were charismatic, I would appreciate it.

So, I was reading the following article:
http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/safox/2009/12/16/che-guevara-hollywoods-mass-murdering-phenom/
And it set me thinking about something I’ve read and pondered a lot: The importance of charisma.

Frankly, I have no idea if any of what this person says about Guevara is true or not. But the point is, if he weren’t so damn charismatic, his picture wouldn’t be all over those t-shirts. Charisma seems to me to be a very big, if not the no. 1, factor that determines a person’s success in many fields.

Here’s the first essay I read on this subject, by a guy who is smarter than I am:
http://www.paulgraham.com/charisma.html

Graham’s essay has influenced my thinking on this issue, and, I think, gives an excellent assessment of charisma, though his conclusion about charisma canceling out doesn’t seem to be working. (See McCain v. Obama, 2008)

First of all, it seems like looks have a lot to do with charisma.  (Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, discussed the importance of superficial factors in determining the winner of Presidential elections. He pointed out that “the tall guy with the best hair usually wins.”) I think that part of it is that youthful vigor lends itself to charisma, part of it is that people are superficial, and tend to trust good-looking people more.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t explain how, for example, Ronald Reagan was able to defeat Carter and Mondale, as whatever created his charisma, it surely wasn’t youthfulness.

It might be good, at this point, to see what a totally unreliable internet source thinks are charismatic people:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_charismatic_leaders_as_defined_by_Max_Weber’s_classification_of_authority

This list does seem to match up fairly well with people who I would consider charismatic and who demonstrated great ability to mobilize people to do their bidding.

(As an aside, I note that there are way fewer women on the list than men. One possibility is that women simply weren’t allowed in positions of power until relatively recently, and so many charismatic women were passed over.)

It’s important to note, if we take this list to be true, that charisma appears to be completely independent of ideology or even morality. This is all the more important because some have argued that charisma is not something which can be learned; rather, it is innate. There is some supporting anecdotal evidence for this claim in such cases as Charles Manson’s cult, wherein an obviously insane individual was nonetheless able to use charisma to control his followers.

The best case I can think of for charisma being learned is probably Ronald Reagan. I suspect that being an actor helps you at that sort of thing. But people like Manson and Guevara seem to argue against this (Manson, particularly, seems unlikely to have learned anything.)

Another argument against it being a skill one can learn is the sad case of Hillary Clinton. She knew she had everything else required to beat Obama except charisma, she had a husband who had charisma, and she had more time to prepare to use it than Obama. And yet, she still couldn’t learn to do it, despite every opportunity.

 So, is charisma learned, or is it innate? And which would be worse?