He was the incandescent man. Phil Graham walked into a room and took it over, charming and seducing whomever he wished, men and women alike. No one in Washington could match him at all, not even, in the days before he became President, John F. Kennedy.
Everyone adored Phil Graham.
David Halberstam, The Powers that Be (Phil Graham married Katharine Meyer, whose father owned the Washington Post. She is, of course, better known as Katharine Graham).
We now understand charisma as a set of behaviors.
Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth
I’ve been thinking about charisma. Bob Morris does not steer us (me) wrong on books, and he is high on the new book The Charisma Myth. (read his review here). So, I am reading it in parts, in brief moments. I like it. It has a lot of great, practical advice. I am looking forward to working through the specific suggestions about how to develop a charismatic presence, how to make a charismatic impact.
But, I suspect that this is like so many other things. We can all get better; maybe noticeably better. We can all develop some/many of these traits. We can work on intentionally learning how to leave an impression, how to have “charisma” (the book talks about what to wear, how to develop a good handshake… practical steps). All of these are useful, good, helpful… and they do and will lead to greater presence, greater charisma.
But I suspect that we could work really hard at this for years and we will still not turn ourselves into a Phil Graham. And therein lies the frustration. We read a title like The Charisma Myth, and we inevitably start comparing ourselves to the genuine superstars.
So, here is my counsel. Yes, you can learn to be noticed in a room. You can learn the behaviors that will make an impact on others. (And don’t forget to be sincere in such a pursuit, as Bob Morris warns us in his review).
But when a Phil Graham shows up, chances are he will still take the room over. So, in the presence of a superstar, just relax and enjoy the show.
A side note: I am asked “what is the best book you have ever read?” more times that I can count. I find that question impossible to answer. There are so many variables; the “place” I was in at the time of the reading; the purpose of the book, and my purpose for reading the book. But The Powers that Be by David Halberstam would go on my short list for a book that is absolutely worth the money and time.
He was the incandescent man. Phil Graham walked into a room and took it over, charming and seducing, whomever he wished, men and women alike. No one in Washington could match him at it, not even, in the days before he became President, John F. Kennedy. He was handsome and slim and when he smiled, at first shy and then bold, everything stopped…
David Halberstam, The Powers That Be, introducing Phil Graham, (the husband of Katharine Graham).
Here’s a way to propel you to a better year, a year toward success, in 2011.
Act the part – look the part!
No, I’m not talking about your wardrobe, keeping your shoes shined, “dressing for success…” (although there is plenty of evidence that this also has an impact) – I’m talking about the way you look; or, make that, I’m talking about the way people see you.
And to boil it down, it’s this: posture, eye-contact, a sense of forceful assertiveness, all really matter.
People with less power or people who didn’t feel powerful exhibited “inhibitive nonverbal behaviors,” such as shrinking in, caving in their chests, physically withdrawing, and using fewer and less forceful hand gestures… Shrinking in and not behaving in a forceful fashion causes others to attribute less power to you, reinstating a negative cycle of behavior in which you’re not treated as powerful and you further withdraw and act powerless.
So – you can start now. Sit up straight – stand up straight. Look people in the eye. Don’t be tentative. (But, beware of the danger of coming across with arrogance). Don’t run over people – but be, and be perceived as, overflowing with self-confidence.
This is something you can do. In fact, it is something you have to do, to practice, every day, in every encounter, in every meeting. Start right now. Sit up straight. Walk, stand, sit with purpose. Don’t shrink in, don’t cave in your chest, don’t physically withdraw. To be successful, it helps to look the part. And looking the part is a series of behaviors — some things that you do.
So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close — but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.