While working at GE Capital many years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Gary Wendt, then CEO of GE Capital. He had developed a reputation of being a very charismatic leader. In my own contact with him, I would typically come away feeling very good about myself, and I began to question why. So I decided to look up the definition of charisma in the dictionary, and here is an extract: “a personal magic of leadership arousing special loyalty and enthusiasm.”
I wanted to dig deeper, thinking that there was some sort of mystical halo that followed Mr. Wendt around, that he had some magical powers. Remembering that he made me feel good about myself after being in his presence, I became attentive as to why I felt better and came up with the following reasons:
- He listened more than he talked. My grandfather once told me, God gave you two ears and one mouth…use them proportionately. One of the basic human needs is to feel like we are being listened to and that our thoughts and feeling matter. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can communicate more effectively if you take the time to listen and understand the other person’s perspective.
- He listened intently to the other person, whether he/she was an executive or a trainee. Listening to another is a real commitment to the speaker…it shows you respect them and care about what they have to say. If you are listening with the intent of just waiting for the person to stop talking so you can respond, this is usually detected by the listener.
- He gave you his undivided attention and made no attempt to multitask. His eye contact was consistent and his body language and frequent affirmations of what you were saying left no doubt he was actively engaged.
- He gave of himself and often expected nothing in return. It was as though he were giving you a birthday present.
- He was unpretentious. He treated those of us in his presence as peers. He recognized that he could learn from us as much as we could learn from him.
- He was always lavish with shining the spotlight on others. He was quick to praise others for what they accomplished and how they were contributing to the success of GE Capital.
- He was not one to discuss others’ failures or his disappointment of them in an open forum. Not only would that be negative energy, but it would also cause doubt in your mind as to whether he would say negative things about you to others.
- He would openly admit that he was human by admitting to his share of failures and successes. Point being, he understood that people like to rally around leaders who communicate that they are not perfect and you don’t have to be perfect to be successful.
I learned a great deal from my interaction with Gary Wendt. I learned that charismatic leaders don’t shine the light on themselves, they shine it on others. When people feel good due to the interaction they have with their leader, they will move mountains.
Maurice Gilbert is Managing Partner of Conselium Executive Search, which specializes in placing Compliance Officers and Legal Counsel for clients in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific. Maurice is also CEO of Corporate Compliance Insights, a worldwide publication devoted to governance, risk and compliance issues. Maurice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.