The limits of Boris Johnson's Charisma

BorisJohnsonSo, Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson has turned his country upside down, left a trail of chaos and devastation in his wake, and then done the final – characteristically dishonourable - thing available to him, and pulled out of the Conservative leadership campaign. How did that all happen? Boris Johnson, apparently, had charisma.  I never noticed it. But an awful lot of other people saw it and responded to it. He was, apparently, engaging. He played the fool in a way that was, allegedly, endearing. He managed to convey the idea that behind his clownish exterior there was a sharp, powerful brain. Boris’s “charisma” led an awful lot of people to overlook a fair few red flags that could have alerted them to the fact that he was not fit for high office, or trustworthy enough to be taken seriously. But isn’t that always the way with charisma? Charisma does a great job of disorienting otherwise decent, good people. Over the years I have encountered so many nice women who fell – hard – for a charismatic man whose only value was “Me! Me! Me!” But he was SO charming that his “mark” told herself that there had to be something solid and good behind such an appealing façade. If only. Charisma is something that inspires devotion in others.  That is all that it is. The person who deploys charisma may project the message that he (or, indeed, she) will return the devotion he receives.  He may, like Boris Johnson, protest that he will act responsibly. But charisma is simply charisma.  It guarantees nothing but itself. Nor does that guarantee necessarily have a terribly long shelf-life. Too many women find that out to their cost. They meet a charismatic man and they assume that they he will continue to lavish them with his “charisma dust” forever after.  Unfortunately, that is not how it works.

Charisma offers no promises.

Charisma is not a promise. It is just a statement. Actually, charisma is – or should be – a disquieting statement. It is a statement of the charismatic person’s need to be treated as special. The charismatic person is making a bid to be seen as more than other people: whether that more means more lovable, more trustworthy, more worthy, or all of that, and more. If we put the political content of Boris Johnson’s charisma to one side and look at his performance, it tells you an awful lot about how charismatic people operate. They are profoundly egotistical.  It really is all about them.  They may go to the trouble of making you feel good, but only for self-serving reasons. In the end, they have no sense of responsibility towards you. What happens to you doesn’t matter to them.  The only thing that interests them is pulling off their “coup” – whatever that may be.  Once that is done, it’s game over. They have achieved what they set out to do. The consequences for you are your problem. Boris Johnson has clearly illustrated the pitfalls of charisma.  That charisma has left his country in a black hole. What will be learned from it in the political arena remains to be seen. In our personal lives, most of us need to learn a healthy mistrust of charisma – it will go a long way to protecting us from heartbreak and disappointment.

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