Charisma and Politics: Is it Enough to be Charming?

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With the internet buzzing after the Republican and Democrat national convention this month, many people have sung the praises of former President Clinton for his ability to excite people and speak eloquently about the political situation faced in the country. "Clinton is known for his charisma," says relationship expert Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, "and we saw that at the Democratic National Convention. But is that enough to win over a country?" Dr. Bonnie weighs in on what the political space needs before people can start believing in the system.

Many are regarding Bill Clinton's endorsement speech at the Democratic National Convention as moving and passionate (, but relationship expert Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil knows that charisma isn't enough to sustain political change. "Being charming and speaking with charisma may help ignite people toward action and it may even help win an election, but," Dr. Bonnie cautions, "it doesn't make for lasting change. We see this in our personal lives, and it can also play out on the national stage."

Psychology Today called Clinton a study in charisma and said he just "had 'it.' That unimaginable thing that makes someone a star." ( The article states that charisma is an important quality of a leader and pieces of it can be learned, but the core is intrinsic.

Obama also has charisma and while a good leader has qualities that help rally the troops, someone who relies on their charisma may also have tendencies toward narcissism. A narcissist can suck people into their vortex, making it easy to focus on their charm instead of the issues at hand. "Whether in politics or relationship, when under the spell of a narcissist, we may forget what we originally stood for," says Dr. Bonnie.

"They are likely focused mostly on themselves, their careers, and what works - from their perspective," she explains. These can be difficult, divisive traits to overcome in a relationship and Dr. Bonnie prescribes the same exercise both for individuals facing this situation, and for a group of people - a nation, business, etc. - trying to move past division. "It takes more than charm and a firey speech!" she says!

Dr. Bonnie has had success working with couples and helping them emerge on the other side of narcissism, using her Smart Heart Skills and Dialogue. She believes Smart Heart Skills can help political parties and their leaders come to a better understanding of what the country needs. "When I work with patients, I provide a place where each person can express any frustrations or concerns in a constructive manner." She suggests the people she treats check in with each other on any issues they face once a week for a set amount of time to make sure each person is being heard, concerns are being addressed, and plans are being put into action for how to handle any shortcomings.

"Something similar needs to be done for politics," emphasizes Dr. Bonnie. "It's not enough to be effusive and inspirational, or even to sit down with those who think differently than you and have the best intentions." The crucial part of Smart Heart - for both couples and politicians - is to come up with an actionable plan to "handle any shortcomings." Dr. Bonnie admits this is the most challenging part! But, she says, "It will also get us a lot further than charisma or charm!"

Dr. Bonnie talks more about these skills in her book, Make Up Don't Break Up, as well as in this video:

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