The Rio Negro Sketchbook

Who says art and science are entirely separate disciplines?

Onça 2

Jaguar by Laura House

We care about what we see — and the more closely we observe, the more we understand. And there’s no better way of  observing closely than through creating art. And what we create, we care for. So any scientific endeavour involving conservation, species diversity or habitat sustainability, depends on our power of observation.

Tomorrow’s scientists should start sharpening their skills of observation today. That’s why we’re embarking on a cultural project for young people in Brazil and beyond, combining education, art and conservation awareness in Amazonia.

In February 2016 wildlife artist and illustrator Laura House – she’s my daughter – will be running a series of workshops for local children in the lower Rio Negro region of the Brazilian Amazon. I’ll be travelling with her as the  fixer, dogsbody, companion and writer. The objective is to combine art, education and conservation in a playful package that helps the children in riverside communities to interact with nature surrounding them in creative ways, and to appreciate its beauty.


Laura House

If Amazonia’s children are, as many conservationists believe,  best-placed to become the long-term guardians of the region’s sustainability,  then engaging their enthusiasm and inspiring their participation is a work of great importance not just for life sciences, but for maintaining species diversity — and perhaps even helping to mitigate climate change.

Wildlife artist and illustrator Laura House

Sloth mother and offspring by Laura House

Here’s the proposition for the workshops set out in  visual format with Laura’s  captions in Portuguese:

Laura Workshop poster large

Laura’s workshop poster

That’s why Laura will be bringing her skills both as an artist and as a teacher to the  Rio Negro to run a series of workshops with local children in local schools. At this time of writing we don’t quite know  how many events there will be. But we do  know that  between 1st Feb and 16th Feb  these will take place in Tumbira, on the river’s western bank, and later at Tres Unidos, an inidgenous community  on the opposite bank. The coordination is being arranged by  Amazonia’s leading NGO,  FAS (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável) which has its  field base in Tumbira. The core proposition of FAS — to make Amazonia’s forests more valuable standing than when cut for lumber — is one we wholeheartedly support.  Likewise we support the strategy FAS has developed  to make this possible: keeping Amazonia’s ribeirinho people in rural communities in order to make a life based on traditional yet sustainable extractive industries  that become economically viable thanks to financial support from donors (these include  Coca Cola, Samsung and others).

You can read  the background to this  trip and its inspiration in the work of the 19th century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (who visited the Rio Negro 160 years ago)  by clicking here. You can also see Laura’s animal drawings and engravings here. A background document describing the Rio Negro Project can also be accessed by clicking here.

Jaguar by Laura House

Jaguar by Laura House

Laura is experienced in giving workshops: you can see more of her drawings  by clicking  on this website and at this Facebook page. Since October 2015 she has been working in Colombia and has  visited schools in  remote areas of the Orinoco River basin not dissimilar from the Brazilian Amazon.

Laura class

Laura leading class in Colombia’s Orinoco River basin

She was born in Brazil and speaks Portuguese. She’s also a qualified teacher as well as holding an MA in education and leadership. She currently works for  UK educational charity TeachFirst,  where she coordinates the work of  primary school teachers in  London. Recently she has been helping to train new teachers in Colombia.

Class 2

Laura leading class in Colombia’s Orinoco River basin

We don’t of course, know what animals will turn up. For the children in Brazil, Laura will  be working with familiar animals living in close proximity with communities. Some may be pets, some predators or pests –  and some may habitually turn up on the plate. The common thread is that these creatures are best understood when observed with care through the artistic process. Learning how to look is an essential feature of learning how to draw, no matter whether the creature in question may be great or small.


All creatures great and small

Laura will encourage the children to  bring their imagination, their narratives, their stories – and even their pets to workshops, where art materials will be provided.

macaw sketches

Drawing macaws from life demands patience

It’s hoped that part of the collective output will be murals painted by the group, as well as individual artistic efforts. Drawing live creatures isn’t always easy, as they tend to jump around. Here’s an image of  some of the lemurs Laura has been drawing in London zoo.

wallace pike2

These lemurs are almost too jumpy to draw!

The images  created on the Rio Negro  by Brazilian children under Laura’s guidance will be collected, and we hope evetually to produce a book that shows young people  all around the world –  including young would-be scientists  – what it’s like to  live in an environment where the pristine forest of a century ago has gone forever, yet where nature can still intervene in village life in unexpected ways.

Wallace landscape 2

19th century pristine Amazonia – no longer

Above all, we hope the result will help to ignite the enthusiasm of young people for the conservation cause — no matter whether their interests focus on animals wild or domestic, or plants of the edible or inedible kind.


Laura’s a plant and botanical illutsrator too

What’s important, of course, is that children are entertained and find that  conservation  can be playful and engaging in its own right – not as an imposition from the adult world.

Other products may emerge from these workshops too. In Colombia, Laura has been experimenting with the interface between the very traditional draughtsmanship skills of the illustrator, and the high-tech world of  IT and software. Specifically, her drawings of  well-known Colombian birds  (Colombian sparrow and falcon) have been used to create 3D models burned/cut into wood panels by laser printing technique.


Bogota’s familiar sparrow-like Copetón after model assembled

Bird 1These shapes can then be painted by  children, pressed out and assembled. The idea is that they make an informative and also creative teaching tool  for the children of Colombia to gain better understanding of the creatures around them.

eagle bird

Colombian Bailarín falcon (Elanus Leucarus)

Perhaps as a result of the Rio Negro workshops, Laura’s work  can help Brazilian children to gain better understanding of the birds and animals of the Amazon using similar painted wooden cutouts. For that to happen, we’ll need some  technical and financial support with the model making process.

Until quite recently, being a scientist meant you also had to be an artist. Before the invention of photography, the discoveries of natural historians visiting remote places would only be credited if they were able to draw what they’d seen. Today the ability to observe, record and describe is still important.

Let’s close with the words of one young scientist, describing his excitement as he set off on his own journey to the Amazon. The date was 1848 and the 24-year-old traveller was Alfred Russel Wallace. These are the opening words of   A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro:

“An earnest desire to visit a tropical country, to behold the  luxuriance of animal and vegetable life said to exist there, and to see with my own eyes all those wonders  I had so much delighted to read of in the narratives of travellers.”


IMG_2898We look forward to keeping you updated on the progress of the workshops that will form the content of our artist’s Rio Negro Sketchbook.









Bond With Feeling

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on November 2, 2015.

Our work is all about people. This is a place where qualities like creativity, insight, curiosity, empathy and intuition are valued just as highly as intellectual ability and analytical, logical thinking.”

Reads just like a message from those well-intentioned but slightly irritating engagement champions downstairs in HR, doesn’t it? Fact is, it’s the text of a new recruiting ad for Britain’s MI6 Secret Intelligence Services.

It’s no wonder that today’s real spies have to be intuitive and insightful. Nowadays we expect even the toughest guys to master these skills, all thanks to Daniel Craig’s superb portrayal of a mature James Bond as a hero with the necessary psychological strength to show vulnerability. In Spectre, Skyfall or The Quantum of Solace he may be battered, but is never bitter.

So, fact has finally caught up with fiction at MI6. And if the world’s most secretive organisation is now publicly wearing emotional intelligence on its sleeve, then you had better do so too.

After all, you’ve read your Daniel Goleman; you’re versed in Appreciative Inquiry, Presencing, and all the OD wisdom culled from a dozen airport best-sellers. Your direct reports expect their performance appraisals to be delivered using the ‘coach approach,’ as you guide your team’s espousal of corporate values to ever-greater heights.

There are no questions about living the values, so your only uncertainty is whether “making the numbers” refers to the employee engagement score, or the P&L. Yet you hit that target too.

But sometimes – just sometimes – doesn’t the Old Adam get the better of you? Do you sense recidivist flashes of an older, unredeemed model of leadership rising up, with the unconquerable urge to raise a finger, to outsmart, to control? Forget 2015’s empathy Bond: is there a cynical 1970s Bond or – even worse – an unreconstructed 1960s sexist Bond with a Walther PPK lurking deep down in there?

Likely as not, it’s just a misunderstanding, caused by bad old communication habits. There’s been so much change in the expected behavioural standards, these days even a saint could be wrong-footed. But we can’t afford to let that old unreconstructed Bond break any more china in the modern workplace.

Instead, leaders are expected to display full-spectrum sensitivity 24/7 – paying a great deal more than lip-service to the new leadership paradigm. Yet for most of us, behavioural attributes and softer skills built up over a lifetime are the defining traits of our personality. Change is hard.

So how can we graft on new skills, losing some old flaws – all the while retaining our authenticity? This won’t happen automatically. The truth is that just acquiring a cognitive understanding of what emotional intelligence is, doesn’t mean our conduct will be emotionally intelligent. Likewise, values or qualities kicked about in Friday’s experiential workshop won’t automatically be modelled in our behaviour come Monday morning.

When it comes to learning how to bond with feeling, then practice, and yet more practice, makes perfect.

For those with unlimited time and money, the best solution is extensive executive coaching. But such costly and time-consuming bespoke “talking therapies” are now under pressure. If we know that developing emotional intelligence and showing empathy are requirements for people managers, why not standardise the process?

Compare what’s happening in the domain of mental health, where open-ended psychoanalysis and other “talking therapies” are being substituted for cognitive behavioural therapies providing cheaper and faster response to known conditions. In the field of executive development, online evaluation tools and methodologies are now helping to address the challenge of turning these people skills into integral parts of our learned behaviour.

This is the province of continuing professional development. If we could map, measure and then manage the way we interact in the workplace, then the challenges of people-based management could be addressed as a natural part of our personal and professional evolution.

There is now a methodology designed to do exactly this. Communicate Charisma is a tool to measure and focus the way we communicate, as part of a programme of ongoing personal development. It’s designed to strengthen our ability to influence others not by wielding that Walther PPK, but with the instant rapport  that lowers barriers of mistrust and gets people to do things they  would not otherwise have done. We call this charisma.

Click here to read how the global leaders we’ve been tracking use  charisma to optimise their communication skills (the graphic at the top of this article is a wisdom-of-crowds assessment of US President Barack Obama); and how our methodology can help you to benchmark and grow these skills.

We won’t guarantee Communicate Charisma will set you up for a job as the next James Bond. But we do think when MI6 starts saying publicly that people skills are important for national security, you should be taking the topic seriously

(Don’t) “Let Me Explain”

“Let me explain,” said Frank Underwood, the fictional US president of the House of Cards TV series, “are the three most deadly words in politics.” His flesh-and-blood predecessor, Ronald Reagan, put it even more succinctly: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

It’s good advice those in business should also heed, for too much of what is known as leadership communications is really rational explanation repackaged as narrative. Those dull supporting cast members known as key messages, proof points, rebuttals and rational debate can end arguments – but they can never set armies marching.

Instead, real leaders work by showing us what they’re expecting from us (mimesis) – not by telling us what’s going on (diagesis). Explaining can win over the head, but seldom the heart. No explanation was ever a call to action. The truth is that while we can build informed consent by explaining issues, we can’t build rapport or win any large-scale engagement this way.

Our age has brought a great commoditisation of the communications function in business, corporate and public life, using explanation as the lowest common denominator. But emotional intelligence tells us facts can’t speak for themselves: only people can.

So it’s time to break through the “let me explain” barrier.

This means recognising  leadership calls for rather  different communications attributes. Persuasively lowering barriers of mistrust to create ‘followership’ is seldom about presenting facts, and instead about character and charisma. The test of a leader’s charisma is to persuade people to do things or hold views they would not otherwise have – all without them fully perceiving the change.

Reagan – let’s not forget he was known as ‘The Great Communicator’ – didn’t explain much. In his 1984 “Shining City upon a Hill” Republican Party nomination speech, he didn’t explain why America should pivot towards the vision of John Winthrop, an obscure 17th century Puritan from Boston who coined the phrase. But pivot America surely did.

Nor did Reagan explain that he had stolen the Winthrop reference from a 1961 speech by John F. Kennedy, one of recent history’s greatest “non-explainers.” Kennedy’s chiselled utterances – “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right” – worked their uncanny persuasion through symbolism, not through argument or explanation. And in 1962 he changed the course of human history without bothering to explain why:

“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? …. We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …”

Coincidence or not, the generation of business leaders who are positioning themselves to inherit at least some threads of Kennedy’s star-spangled mantle, thanks to the privatisation of space exploration, aren’t great explainers either.

Look at what Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen and Sir Richard Branson have to say about their separate reasons for financing hugely risky and costly vehicles such as the SpaceX, Falcon, Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic. Perhaps the vast personal fortunes they’re wagering in space exempt them from explaining to troublesome shareholders. Yet they still don’t say very much at all about the ‘why’ of space entrepreneurship. Which is curious because all are great and prolific communicators.

Instead, they let the dream sell itself. Musk focuses on the goal of establishing human colonies on Mars by 2040. Branson wants every passenger to have a window seat. Bezos uses a Latin motto: Gradatim Ferociter, or “step-by-step, ferociously.”

In each of these leadership cases, there’s a set of valuable insights. When it comes to persuasive power, then character attributes and the building of rapport will outrank all the facts gathered into bulky folders by interns in the communications department. Charisma will provide an embattled executive with more answers than the weightiest Q&A briefing document.

Everyone has at least some of these skills. Yet in many cases they need to be revealed after a lifetime of bad communication habits. The starting point is to visualise, map and measure our softer communication skills. Then we can start managing them. There is a way to do this.  The image at the top of this article is one real example of a persuasive communications skills map generated by  completing a simple online self-assessment.  You can find full details of our robust new methodology and how it will help you to reveal and hone your own skills, on our website

So next time your find yourself raising a finger while your lips form those familiar words “let me explain;” just stop yourself right there.

(Originally published on LinkedIn Oct 24, 2015)

“Going with the Gut” – or Sensing Your Charisma?

(This was published on LinkedIn Sep 18, 2015)

Now that my colleagues at the Financial Times have made the topic semi-official, it’s time to recognize just how many senior executive decisions are based on intuition, rather than empirical data.

A Sept 10th FT report by Maxine Boersma cited a survey from PA Consulting which found 69 percent of CEOs preferred to use their intuition and experience to build teams, rather than “empirical” recruitment data from their Human Resources departments.

Let’s analyse what’s really happening when an executive lays your CV down on the table, reaches out a hand and says: “I’m going to go with my gut: you’re hired.”

The same mechanism is at work at a pitch meeting when, all things being equal between project providers X and Y, the CEO turns to Y and says: “I’m going with my hunch; we’ll take a chance on you.”

References to “intuition,” “hunch” and “gut” suggests the process is being driven by the recruiter or the CEO. Mostly though, it’s exactly the other way around. What the CEO should really be saying to his new recruit or new contractor is: “You have just taken over my brain, and I’m so influenced by you I’m going to change my mind in your favour.”

So what is the potential recruit doing that’s so effective in subverting both the HR department and the CEO’s decision-making process? It’s a very special communication skill that works beyond the cognitive processes of persuasion and argument. We call it charisma, the power to influence others by creating the instant rapport that lowers barriers of mistrust and causes interlocutors to behave in ways they otherwise would not have done.

In fact, many decisions aren’t made in the gut at all: they’re the product of charisma. It’s a mistake to consider charisma as being unique to TV personalities, celebrities and politicians.

It is all around us and those who master this life success factor can fast-track themselves into positions of influence, all the while leaving their sponsors – such as those CEOs – with a warm and fuzzy feeling. In fact charisma is a feedback mechanism that’s only detectable when people exposed to it start changing their behaviour.

Many people have tried to build artificial skills using cookie-cutter ‘charisma leadership tactics.’ They don’t work. Charisma is all about authenticity, and that means revealing and building on inner resources.

Everyone has charisma. A lucky few have instinctively learned how to deploy the communications mastery that makes them stand out. The rest of us must learn. This calls for an intellectually-rigorous method to map, measure and then manage personal charisma assets in a responsible way as part of our continuing professional development.

Communicate Charisma is a robust new methodology for coaches, trainers and leadership professionals that does exactly this. A simple online self-assessment test creates a detailed report that reveals communication strengths and weaknesses. Visually-intuitive mapping  (you’ll see an image at the top of this page) creates a clear baseline that executives and leaders everywhere can use for their  ongoing personal development.

You can find out more about the charisma profiles of “Great Communicators” we’ve assembled, and how to take the self-assessment test.

If you’re an executive who’s been through business school, then mastering data analysis and empirical arguments has certainly brought you a long way. Now wouldn’t you like to learn how to influence those around you in more subtle ways, so they keep on “going with their gut” to extend the opportunities and success available to you?

(This was published on LinkedIn Sep 18, 2015)

Charisma – or just a Comb-over?

Donald Trump really should take our charisma test.

The results will tell the US presidential contender what his real chances are of streaking past the gridlock of mainstream politics to make it all the way to the White House.

To succeed, he’ll need to harness his extraordinary personal power to influence and transform mass opinion with communication skills. It’s a power that’s been honed over many decades of pitching and presenting countless property deals, sales presentations, how-to books and series after ratings-topping series of The Apprentice – but is as yet unproven in the political arena.

Trump’s performance during the debate between ten Republican contenders screened from Cleveland, Ohio by Fox News August 6th, ensured him centre-stage in the American leadership debate. His abrasive, iconoclastic style is beloved of tens of millions of blue collar voters and middle America’s Main Street. But the billionaire’s opportunist avowal that he might split the right wing vote by running as an independent candidate if Republicans don’t select him, betrays an arrogance has made him feared and hated by the establishment.

Creative disruption for Donald Trump, not party politics. Photo by NY Post.

Creative disruption for Donald Trump, not party politics. Photo by NY Post.

Yes, Trump is a huge disruptive force. But just how far will the power of communication take him? Until now, no political pundit had the forensic tools to map or measure Donald Trump’s charisma, and compare it with that of other leaders who’ve won the US presidency.

But we do – and one year and four months before an election that could be decided not by Democrat or Republican party machines but through raw individual magnetism – we’re offering “The Donald” his chance to show whether he has what it takes in terms of leadership charisma.

Communicate Charisma’s methodology is completely unique, and we’re using it to generate  empirical research into the way leaders of every kind influence those around them.Of course we want to apply our methodology to the greatest test of all: the upcoming US presidential elections.

And we’re working with tools to reveal and utilize personal charisma that go beyond entertainment industry notions of  razzmataz, star quality, chutzpah, or just plain arrogance.

It's not about Trump's  comb-over; it's all about charisma

It’s not about Trump’s comb-over; it’s all about charisma

Forget the cackling about his comb-over, or how much money he in fact has; charisma mapping is the way to show what Trump’s chances really are.

And, if he takes our test, Trump will be in good company. We have already used “wisdom of crowds” techniques to successfully map and measure how online respondents view the charisma attributes of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton (though as yet neither have actually taken the online test themselves).

What does charisma consist of and what are the seven dimensions are we measuring?

Leaders of all kinds need additional reserves of Self-Assurance (A) and Drive (D) to press forward against opposition and uncertainty. To win trust, they need extra energy to articulate their strongly-held Beliefs (B)  and to infect others with an over-the-horizon Vision (V2) of a different future. In varying degrees, leaders tend to mitigate this drive or positive aggression with softer qualities of Empathy (E) and Collaboration (C). These hidden attributes of everyone’s personal communication style help to build instant rapport with audiences, influencing listeners to “go with their gut” or give the benefit of the doubt to propositions being advanced, even if the “reasons to believe” aren’t fully convincing.

Lastly we consider Values (V1)  to be the most  vital element of true charismatic leadership. This is the key principle for winning public trust by projecting an authentic commitment to stewardship and service, that in turn engenders a sense of security and rightness. History teaches us that charisma without values – not only in world politics, but in business too – is a dangerous combination.

Here you can see the seven dimension Charisma Essence Profile prepared for President Obama, based on the views of  visitors to our website

President Barack Obama's Charisma Essence plot

President Barack Obama’s Charisma Essence plot. All charts by

And here is the map of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton:

Forme prresident Bill Clinton's  Charisma Essence plot

Former president Bill Clinton’s Charisma Essence plot

In charisma terms, both Clinton and Obama appear as  full-spectrum leaders. On the upper right are the “positive aggression” attributes: of Self-Assurance (A), Drive (D) and Vision (V2). To the lower left are the “soft skills” attributes of Empathy (E), Collaboration (C) and Beliefs (B).

We hope Donald Trump will contact us to complete a Charisma Essence Profile. But while we’re waiting for him to get in touch, here’s a likely picture of what the result could look like – based on the way he’s handling his race for the White House. The campaign has already turned arrogance in public life into a global talking-point.

Might Donald Trump's  Charisma Essence  plot look something like this?

Might Donald Trump’s Charisma Essence plot look something like this?

You can see there are significant differences to the Clinton/Obama duo in the way the seven coloured wedges radiate from the centre of this map plot. While there’s highly-developed Self-Assurance (A) and Drive (D) and Vision (V2),  it’s clear the Empathy (E) and Collaboration (C)  zones are much less developed. This is characteristic of a more independent,  populist figure who relies less on emotional intelligence factors.

Let’s emphasize again that this is a model, not Trump’s actual  profile. Question is, if  Trump’s Charisma Profile looks like the model above,  rather than the Obama/Clinton image, then what does it mean for his electoral chances?

Trump’s refusal in the debate to toe the Republican party line and rule out standing as an independent, suggests low energy in the collaboration field:

Low energy in the collaboration field encourages highly individualist postures.

Low energy in the collaboration field encourages highly individualist postures.

By contrast, his resolute insistence that part of America’s problems are attributable to illegal immigrants from Mexico, and on the need to build a hugely costly southern border wall to keep them out, betokens a man of unyielding Drive.

Strong  Drive is need to  maintain dogmatic or controversial positions

Strong Drive is need to maintain dogmatic or controversial positions

Many political observers have questioned what Trump really stands for – apart from promoting his own personal brand.  In terms of values,  Trump’s  more opportunistic world-view remains surpisingly opaque. So Communicate Charisma’s assessment of this dimension might show him as neutral. This last charisma attribute – values – could be the Trump’s Achilles heel in the race for the White House.

nasty valuesCommunicate Charisma also presents a two dimensional plot showing how individuals choose project their power through empathy or persuasion.  In Trump’s case, his highly-developed public speaking skills and persuasive style would make him an evangelist or campaigner as depicted in this  sample plot.

Trump's two dimensional Charisma Projection plot might look like this

Trump’s two dimensional Charisma Projection plot might look like this

By way of contrast, to show the importance of Values and Vision as components in the mix of trust and rapport we feel for our most admired leaders,  let’s take a look at the Charisma  Essence Profile of  Nelson Mandela that our online visitors have compiled for us. We also see highly developed levels of  Empathy (E) and Collaboration (C).

Extremely high levels of Value and Vision in  former South African leader Nelson Mandela

Extremely high levels of Value and Vision in former South African leader Nelson Mandela

No-one doubts the extraordinary competence of Trump as a real-estate titan, successful TV entertainer, popular writer and ambassador of his mighty personal brand – all fields in which his aggressive self-promotion and overweening chutzpah have paid him huge dividends and turned him into a popular embodiment of the American Dream.

But does his unashamed opportunism, mordant wit and his open contempt for whole swathes of the US population including the actress Rosie O’Donnell, women in general, immigrants, Mexicans, Democrats and indeed the entire political class, match the dignitas in which Americans like their leadership figures to be clothed ?

The Donald. Photo by Time Inc

The Donald. Photo by Time Inc

The progress of Trump’s campaign provides us with an astonishing public barometer with which to measure contemporary taste for leadership qualities – and by definition, the popular view of charisma. Will the American people want a trustworthy steward of the nation – or a quickfire show host?

If Trump is successful in getting his name put before the US electorate this November, then what will have happened to the classical leadership models originating with Teddy Roosevelt or John F Kennedy, and still emulated by many industry leaders? Roosevelt himself described US politics as the “bully pulpit” – referring to his right to speak out on any issue he chose. Trump’s own interpretation of “bully” sounds suspiciously like a usage of the word more familiar to British ears.

One immediate consequence was  Trump’s ‘disinvitation’ from speaking at events sponsored by conservative group RedState, thanks to his hostile comments about the Cleveland debate  moderator, Megyn Kelly of Fox News whose judgement he implied had been impaired by  hormones. This suggests opinion formers in the US establishment  don’t respond well to bullying, and there’s an implication that Trump has transgressed the laws of common decency, instead of boldly rebelling against political correctness.

It’s arguable that success for  the iconoclastic Trump would undermine the contemporary edifice of empathy-based leadership built upon soft skills and emotional intelligence. In leadership terms,  we might expect a reversal of American values which during the Cuban missile crisis JFK described as: “Not the victory of might, but the vindication of right.”

Let’s wait to see how US public opinion responds. And Donald, please call for your exclusive code to take the Communicate Charisma self-assessment test so we can share real data aboput you.

At Communicate Charisma we teach people how to become more engaging and effective communicators. In our Charisma Dimensions workshops, we use practical exercises coupled with our bespoke self-awareness tools to allow participants to understand and experience the impact of individual personality traits on how we are perceived by others. Together, we use these insights to develop a more effective and authentic personal style, and so raise our power of influence and communications mastery.

Find out more about our workshops.


Ain’t Life a Pitch?

No matter what passport we hold, today we all live in Startup Nation.

Start me up. But will the engine fire?

Start me up. But will the engine fire?

Startup Nation is much bigger than Israel, the subject of the eponymous 2009 book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. There’s a rookie entrepreneur hiding inside everyone, just waiting to take his or her place in Silicon Valley or Silicon Roundabout, with an app that promises to turn heads at TechCrunch or conferences in Redwood City, California, Monaco, Dublin and Helsinki. Startup is the prevailing faith of a frontierless generation. Once, intelligence followed and served investment capital locked inside great institutions: today that same capital hungrily seeks the products of individual intelligence, manifested in startups. Miracles really do happen, and NASDAQ is the proof.

Helsinki  2014 Summit for startups. Foto Slush.

Helsinki 2014 Summit for startups. Foto Slush.

When it comes to business leadership, it’s not the technology that makes the difference; it’s still the people. In Startup Nation, everyone who’s got somewhere is sparky, frenetic, pushy, full of intelligence, brimming with chutzpah. Yet for them  – as for you – the path to  business leadership started with a single nervous and faltering pitch to unlock capital. Maybe at the family dinner table. The first of many, many pitches. First to family and friends; then to angel investors and believers, then to incubator funds; then to seed round venture capital investors; then to series A, B, and C  funding sources, and perhaps – just a tiny perhaps – to IPO investors.

Ali Baba's Jack Ma:

Ali Baba’s Jack Ma: he once stood where you may be today

It can be quick: between August 2008 and July 2011, AirBnB went from first idea to US$500 million funding. More likely, it’s slow, and doomed to failure. And in 99% of cases this comes down to the Pitch. VC investors spend an average of 3.4 minutes reviewing each slide deck pitch. Some look at 20 a day. They fillet opportunities quicker than a rag-picker in a flea market. Mostly, “The Ask” doesn’t contain the necessary clarity of thought, direction or purpose. The basic dynamic of identifying a problem, proposing a solution and addressing the market, hasn’t been thought through. In such cases, the pitch doesn’t show clear understanding of the metrics, or explain a growth strategy that will bring scale to operations and returns for investors.

What is the motor that will get your startup rolling?

What is the motor that will get your startup rolling?

Having a clear, simple message that marshals the salient facts, is a basic requirement for gaining the VC’s attention and so getting past the first and lowest hurdle. Let’s call this “knowing what to say.” Let’s just suppose the VC flips to the next slide, rather than hitting the ‘delete’ button. He’s looking for a narrative, something beyond the basic “what,” “when” and “how” of the message that explains the wider relevance of the idea. This calls for a story and some delivery skill, either in organising the deck or a verbal pitch. Let’s call this “knowing how to say it.” Let’s just suppose your pitch has got past this second hurdle, and the VC wants to know more than what’s in the deck. He sends a Google calendar invite for a meeting. He’s already bought into the message and the story. He takes as given you’ll survive a frenzied, sleepless year living on take-away pizzas, caffeinated soda and no social life. You’ve now got past the Docsend stage where a simple mathematical formula setting out the number of slides, number of bullet points and optimal font size, will be of any help to you. You’ve likely gone further than those who’ve now found careers as pitch trainers and bombard you with webinar invitations. Your VC is curious about something much less tangible – yet ultimately more important than all the precious data in your deck and even your precious app’s attributes. After all, he knows and you know that all forecasts are fiction and your real product is promise. Can you build instant rapport with people and persuade them? Are they going to trust you to make something out of nothing? Will investors go with their gut? This is the terrain of creating a new reality where none existed before. Semiconductors, MySQL and web architecture can only achieve part of that miracle.

Dublin Websummit. Foto

Dublin Websummit. Foto Startup Business

The rest is down to you. Making it over this third hurdle calls for mastery of something that goes beyond “what to say” (message) or “how to say it” (story). This is the terrain of “who to be.” That calls for charisma. Everyone has some – yet few know how to consciously call up and develop this key life success factor that will get them over the third hurdle and on the way towards Round A. At Communicate Charisma, we believe that every entrepreneur can shorten the long odds against his or her startup successfully making it through the pitching jungle, by learning how to map, measure and manage vital communication attributes that will enhance persuasive power without sacrificing authenticity. After all, your precious idea deserves the very best startup you can give it. And that means putting some charisma into your pitch, even if 100% of your time, effort and money is going into developing the app. And yes, Communicate Charisma is proud to be a startup too. At Communicate Charisma we teach people how to become more engaging and effective communicators. In our Charisma Dimensions workshops, we use practical exercises coupled with our bespoke self-awareness tools to allow participants to understand and experience the impact of individual personality traits on how we are perceived by others. Together, we use these insights to develop a more effective and authentic personal style, and so raise our power of influence and communications mastery. Find out more about our workshops.

Rebooting Charisma in Business

Why should CEOs and senior executives struggle to become more engaging or show greater empathy, when even a professional actor and comedian trained in the communication arts has been booted from the top of Twitter?

The June 2015 ouster from Twitter’s C-suite of Dick Costolo – he used to work for Second City, the famed Chicago-based improv group that also gave the world Mike Myers and Arthur Burns – would suggest the vogue for soft skills epitomized by the improv actor’s “Yes …. And” is succumbing to “No …. But” and the hard number CFO-talk investors prefer to hear.


Last comic laugh: Twitter’s Dick Costolo (Foto Twitter)

Does this mean the pendulum has swung and the whole soft-skills paradigm and management “vision thing” needs banishing to the back of the management bookshelf as even Silicon Valley goes back to the button-down, anti-charismatic CEO?

Despite his ready tongue and laid-back style, Costolo couldn’t make Twitter (288 million users) grow as fast as bigger rivals FaceBook (1.2 billion users) and Google (1.2 trillion searches yearly). And he committed the cardinal sin of telling the New York Times “No, you don’t have to tweet.”

Can you imagine Jack Welch in his prime telling customers they “didn’t have to buy a GE refrigerator”? (By coincidence, Jack Welch has been writing about the “number one quality” leaders need: intelligence, charisma, or positive energy).

So now Twitter founder and co-chairman Jack Dorsey – hardly a dour MBA type himself and now sporting a very un-Wall Street Viking beard – is back at the helm. Nevertheless, the Twitter story might suggest the figure of the transformational leader using vision, charisma and engagement to inspire employees, has taken a serious hit.


Jack Dorsey (Photo London Evening Standard)

Just hold on a minute.

Ever since the 1960s, when business school professors began trawling through the writings of Austrian sociologist Max Weber to spin out his theories of how power is gained and maintained by princes, bureaucrats and heroes, there’s been a war going on between two rival visions of how leadership works in a post-feudal world. Business gurus James McGregor Burns and Bernard Bass took forward Weber’s ideas to found separate wings of a global industry of management thinking. There’s an earlier blog all about this accessible here.

Max Weber

Leadership study pioneer: Max Weber

At one pole stands transactional leadership – goal-setting to win compliance through supervision and organization, by using carrots or sticks to boost group performance and align followers with the leader’s clearly-stated goals. Transactional leadership isn’t aimed at changing the future, but bureaucratic fine-tuning of the present to avert crises. If you like, Twitter under Costolo didn’t have enough of this nitty-gritty attribute.

At the other pole stands transformational leadership – where non-bureaucratic values of personal trust, vision and a desire for fulfilment are articulated by leaders who inspire employees to perform better. This is the domain of the charismatic leader able to articulate an inspirational vision and strategy – but who may be less at home with the bricks and mortar of implementation. Once again, hiring a CEO like Costolo for Twitter was a triumph of “management walking around and being inspirational.”

But beware of pendulums and binary – even bipolar – thinking. Sometimes when  business school professors write papers about leadership, what they really mean is management. Keeping the trains running on time is quite different from making followers believe they want to do something they had previously considered impossible.

And whatever the textbooks say, we know human interactions don’t work the way the theories go. (Indeed Burns argued that most effective leaders use both transactional and transformational styles).

The primary function of leaders is work facilitation – pointing people in the right direction to deliver more and change more than they had believed possible. To achieve common goals, leaders must clarify to followers exactly how to get there, over the horizon.

In other words, regardless of whether the style is transactional or transformational, effective communication is the central leadership attribute. Effective communication doesn’t have to be a rerun of Mark Anthony’s funeral speech for Julius Caesar or Martin Luther King’s “dream.”

It’s not about the noise and flourishes the speaker makes – it’s about the active response of the audience. Let’s drop the idea that charisma is all about rhetorical blather, engaging ad-libs, inspiration and schmooze. To be charismatic, you don’t even have to be nice. Consider the magnetic influence of former British premier Margaret Thatcher, once described by former French president Francois Mitterrand as having “the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe.”


Margaret Thatcher – Fatal Attraction

The proof is whether – even in the absence of empirical proof – people will change their views and do things they previously would not have agreed to, all because of what a leader says.

We believe it’s time to reboot the concept of charisma in business, in effect distancing it from the transformational leadership silo envisioned over a century ago by Weber, and placing it closer to the modern camp of management sometimes called instrumental leadership.

That’s where things get done not only thanks to transactions (bureaucracy), or to transformations (inspiration) but through clear contracting – all thanks to clear communication. Step forward charisma!

At Communicate Charisma we teach people how to become more engaging and effective communicators. In our Charisma Dimensions workshops, we use practical exercises coupled with our bespoke self-awareness tools to allow participants to understand and experience the impact of individual personality traits on how we are perceived by others. Together, we use these insights to develop a more effective and authentic personal style, and so raise our power of influence and communications mastery.

Find out more about our workshops.