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Lykken on Leadership: Creating a Winning Culture ... Charisma

David Lykken
Nov 10, 2014
​Lenders Compliance Group Inc. (LCG) has announced the addition of Michael R. Pfeifer as director of Mortgage Servicing Compliance to offer mortgage risk management guidance to the mortgage industry, with a particular emphasis on loan servicing

He quietly approaches the lectern as the crowd of thousands looks on to hear the business mogul pass on his advice to the next generation. He is wearing a robe to match the others with whom he shares a stage, but they are used to seeing him in blue jeans. He begins to speak.

"Thank you," he says as the applause quiets down. He then smiles and says, "I'm honored to be with you today for your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world." More applause ensues. "Truth be told," he continues, "I never graduated college … and this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation."

A few people from the audience laugh at the irony and the speaker continues.

"Today," he says, "I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories."

Thus begins the now famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address delivered by the late Steve Jobs.

In each of his presentations, Jobs knew how to draw people in. He connected with people in a magical way. And, despite his well-known temperamental managerial style, he knew how to get people to follow him and listen to what he had to say. Steve Jobs was engaging. Steve Jobs was electrifying. Steve Jobs had charisma.

This might sound fairly obvious, but I'm going to say it anyway: To become a great leader, you've first got to actually get people to follow you. After you've attracted people to your cause, then you will also need other traits like "character" if you actually want to keep them. But, as for developing that initial attraction, there is one trait great leaders must have that outshines all the rest: Charisma. You cannot attract people to you if you aren't "attractive."

Now, what do I mean by attractive? Of course, I'm not talking about being physically attractive. You don't have to be the stereotypical "tall, dark and handsome" to have charisma. I'm talking about being relationally attractive. Charisma is all about having a magnetic energy that draws people in and makes them want to hear what you have to say. It's about connecting with people on an emotional level in such a way that they are compelled to like you.

For the past several months, I have been focusing on what causes some organizations to succeed and others to fail. Through years of observing and working with hundreds of companies, I've determined that it almost always boils down to organizational culture. Winning cultures embody values that prime them for success. And the leaders of those organizations hold certain characteristics that make that success inevitable.

Lately, I have focused on character, conviction and confidence. All of these traits are vital for keeping the right people in your organization and maintaining the appropriate atmosphere for success. But before you can "keep and maintain," you've got to attract and build. That is, you've got to attract the right people to begin with and build a culture around the values those people share. Nothing can help a leader build a team quite like a healthy dose of charisma.

"That's all fine and good," you may be saying, "But what if I'm not a charismatic person?" After all, isn't charisma something you're born with? Isn't it one of those personality traits that you either have or don't have? Well, I'm sure some people are more naturally charismatic than others. But as much as it's a "trait" that you are born with, I also think it's a "skill" you can develop.

If that's the case, how can you become a more charismatic leader? Well, I'm sure there are dozens of books out there to teach you how to become more empathetic, energetic, and emotionally intelligent. Find all the advice you can, because there's a lot of good stuff out there. But I'm going to give you five tips that you might not find filling those pages. Here are five counterintuitive ways to become a more charismatic leader.

First, stay physically healthy. I'm not a doctor, but I think there is some basic, well-established medical advice that I would be comfortable giving. Drink more water and less soda. Exercise as often as you can. Get more sleep. Try to only eat salts, sugars, and fats in moderation. Few people would disagree with these best practices. And yet, what happens when you wake up in the morning to go for a jog? You hit snooze. And what happens when you get home late from work? You grab fast food or order a pizza. It's quick, it's convenient, and it satisfies a craving.

So, what does being healthy have to do with being more charismatic? Well, more and more research is showing a substantial mind-body connection. If you treat your body badly, it shows up in your mood. You can become grumpy, groggy, anti-social, and just not very fun to be around. Take care of yourself, on the other hand, and you have more energy to interact with people--more passion with which to inspire them.

Another thing you can do to improve your charisma is make the decision to shun cynicism. When you consuming content--whether it's on TV, in a book, or on the Internet--avoid the negative. Go on a media diet, if you must. You'll find that the world keeps spinning, even if you stop watching the news for a bit.

Also, avoid conversations with negative people. There is always going to be someone wanting to tell you how horrible things are and how hopeless your situation is. Ignore them. They are charisma-killers. They suck your passion and leave you hollow. Cynicism is a charisma thief--don't let it into your house.

A third thing you might want to try is probably something you haven't heard before in a professional context: consume more stories. By "stories," I mean reading fiction, watching movies, and even listening to narrative-based songs. How can this help your charisma? Simple. Being charismatic is all about relating better to other people. There is no better way to get a clarity on how people think and feel than to experience stories about them.

The more you are in tune with what it means to be human, the more people will be attracted to you. Give it a shot. Read memoirs about how people have overcome obstacles in their lives and professions. Watch movies that have complex characters and intricate social interactions. Listen to people tell you stories about their lives. You'll be surprised by how much it feeds your charisma.

On that note, another thing you'll want to do in order to become more charismatic is have more conversations. Talk to everyone. Start conversations with people while you're waiting in line at the coffee shop, when you're flying on a plane, and when you're out walking your dog. Listen to people tell their stories and respond with some stories from your own life.

As you do this more and more, you will see yourself becoming increasingly more magnetic. You'll become more fluent and articulate when you talk to people, and you'll intuitively grasp how to better draw them into conversations. The more comfortable you are having conversations with people, the more receptive they will be to you.

One final piece of advice I have for you if you are looking to boost your charisma has to do with recruiting. When you are building your team, hire first and foremost for passion. You know the old adage: "hire for attitude; train for skill." I think that's true. It's a lot easier to train a skill than it is to change an attitude. Hire people who approach their work with a passion, and that passion will rub off on you.

So, when you're hiring people, give more weight to the question, "why do you want to work for us?" than you do to the question, "why are you the best person for the job?" Because the people who most want to work for you, regardless of their skill levels, probably are the best people for the job. Those are the people who will be willing to learn and grow with you. When you have people working with you who are passionate about what they do, that excitement will transfer to you—making you more charismatic. Then, your charisma will reflect back to your team—creating an endless cycle of passionate engagement. And that's how you become unstoppable.

Charisma isn't about hype. It's not just being a dynamic speaker. If you watch how Steve Jobs presented, he actually did so in a quiet way. And yet people still latched onto every word. You don't have to be loud and boisterous. You don't even have to be an extrovert. That's not how I see charisma.

Charisma is about connecting with people on an emotional level. It's about identifying with people in such a way that they gravitate toward you. It's about being likable. And, as a leader, that skill is absolutely crucial for building the team you need to create a winning culture.

David Lykken is 40-year mortgage industry veteran who has been an owner operator in three mortgage banking companies and a software company. As a former business owner/operator, today David loves helping C-Level executives and business owners achieve extraordinary results via consulting, coaching and communications, with the objective of eliminating corporate dysfunction, establishing and communicating a clear corporate strategy while focusing on process improvement and operational efficiencies resulting in increased profitability. David has been a regular contributor on CNBC and Fox Business News and currently hosts a successful weekly radio program, “Lykken on Lending,” that is heard each Monday at noon (Central Standard Time) by thousands of mortgage professionals. He produces a daily one-minute video called “Today’s Mortgage Minute” that appears on hundreds of television, radio and newspaper Web sites across America. He may be reached by phone at (512) 501-2810 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Nov 10, 2014