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The power of the spoken word


Churchill, Ghandi, Malcolm X and Thatcher. All these people understood the power of the spoken word. Modern leaders would do well to take note, says Paul Bridle.

Leaders use the spoken word to take their participants through to a measureable result. But do they truly understand the power of their words? Although the evidence has been there throughout history, it has been punctuated on this generation with the arrival of Obama as President of the United States.
Obviously it is not just the word, it is how the word is spoken, the enunciation, the passion, the conviction and so many other facets that make the spoken word come across with such power. Some people try and wrap it up in one word by calling it ‘charisma’.
We know that the reason people follow a leader is closely connected to the perceptions they have of that leader, whether it is based on common ideology, common aims, compatible personality types or simply charisma. There have been many attempts made to define charisma through the type of Personality. However, if we look at examples of some of the charismatic leaders throughout history, such as Ghandi or Hitler, it will be evident that the personality profile of the individual is not necessarily the key to charisma.
In an attempt to find a definition of charisma, some have used the Powers of Personality as a means of breaking down the common attributes ascribed to the charismatic leader. These are the powers of purpose, self-confidence, enthusiasm, expertise, preparation, self-reliance, image, character, self-discipline, and result orientation. Let us look at some of these in relation to the two very opposite examples we have chosen of charismatic leaders.

Purpose and Self-confidence

In the case of Ghandi his goal was social and political progress, one of the main forms this took was the independence of India. The way in which he set about achieving this was through a life devoted to peace and brotherhood; he wanted to bring independence without the violence usually associated with it and by joining instead of separating. 

Adolf Hitler can be seen as an example of this power. Hitler sought to liberate Germany from what he saw as the sanctions imposed at the Peace Treaty of Versailles. His desire was to improve the economic and social status of Germany and create his idea of the ‘Master Race’.
In both examples we see the power of a clear purpose, even if the purpose was not the right purpose in some cases. The power of purpose also ties in with the power of self-confidence. Self-confidence requires having belief enough in the ‘self’ to go out and achieve your goals, whilst displaying the readiness to do whatever is needed.


Enthusiasm and Expertise

The power of enthusiasm is about passion. Being passionate about what you are doing and making others passionate about it. This power is all about having a passion for what you believe in and what you want others to believe in. If you watch the speeches of Ghandi or Hitler, you will see two very different forms of passion and enthusiasm. Both men understood how the spoken word was the opportunity to demonstrate their enthusiasm and expertise.

As a side note it is important to remember that expertise is not about having all the answers but about having either the answers quickly available or having the right people on hand.

Image and Character

This power can be seen in Ghandi who led India to independence without the use of violence; who was imprisoned on numerous occasions for what he believed in; who was willing to do whatever was required of him to achieve what was best not only for India but it might also be seen as what was best for everybody. 

To the destitute of post-war Germany the future Hitler offered an improvement on their situation, and things did start to improve for Germans during that time. Putting aside the consequences of Hitler’s actions, he, at the very least, made the German Public believe that what he was doing was the right thing for Germany. People believed in the ideology but understood the methods when it was too late. His values in achieving those aims are not acceptable values in terms of how people should be treated but they were strong values.

Self-discipline and result-orientation

Self-discipline is about being controlled, showing resolve, determination and organisation. Ghandi, in 1906, took a vow of self-discipline, which would govern the simplistic way in which he lived his life from the clothes he wore to the food he ate. Although the typical view of Hitler is that he had little self-control, was unpredictable and unstable, there are many reports indicating that he was very disciplined and followed strict routines.

Results orientation is the foundation of good leadership and in both our examples; these men were focused on outcomes and the objective they wished to attain. They were capable of measuring progress as they progressed.

Using the Power

All these qualities apply to a good trainer, presenter or facilitator. Through the spoken word, the trainer, presenter or facilitator will influence the participants and guide them. It is a powerful influence that should not be taken lightly. It can be used negatively or positively and the trainer needs to keep that in mind at all times.

Most of all, the trainer and the leader needs to know the results they want to achieve and ensure that these are clearly articulated at all times.

By Paul Bridle is a leadership methodologist, world renowned speaker and managing director of Bridle International.

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