Can charisma alone create the leader of the future?

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani

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Charisma is captivating. It is a godsend gift that cannot be acquired, no matter how hard self-development advocates and gurus try. It may be polished, but it is never created from nothing. It comes from genes and you are either born with it or not.

Charisma, by definition, touches on people’s emotions more than their rationale, which explains its considerable impact on the way people in the Arab region are attracted to magnetic, elegant, and articulate personalities, and the sway this type of personality has on them.

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The late President Gamal Abdel Nasser had a great impact on the sentiment of the Egyptian street and the Arab public, but it ends there as the rest of the world judges people by their deeds and not their rhetoric and sweet oratory. Bin Laden, Che Guevara, and others are just peas in the same pod with Abdel Nasser.

Whether it was in an orator, poet, or teacher, charisma remains the key to people’s hearts, because the ability to inspire is the measure of success for their work. But politics is a completely different story. As important as inspiration can be, an attractive political personality, which is very scarce, since politicians are generally unpopular, is expected to provide more than just inspiration. The true measure remains what the politician actually produces and their ability to carry out positive change and generate outputs consistent with their inspirational rhetoric.

In modern Arab history, many political and intellectual charismatic personas, both Arab and non-Arab, have left their fingerprints on the principles and values of Arab society. This influence was so vast that we started viewing Arab public opinions and any intellectual Arabs as impressionable, obsessed with empty words, and easily swayed towards attractive vocal personalities, regardless of their approach or agenda. Such traits have caused a lot of agony to the Arab audience due to their infatuation with personalities to the detriment of reality.

In my space, I chose to take Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a model that will help answer the very important question, are charisma and the ability to impress enough to create a successful leader?

Mohammed bin Salman appeared in the media three times during the past month, the first of which was when he launched the exceptional project “The Line,” a city that resembles what we see in science fiction movies. Built in accordance with all modern standards, the Line is an environmentally friendly city that follows international standards with integrated infrastructure, and it offers numerous entertainment opportunities.

People remained blown away by his appearance for quite some time, but they were also asking themselves, how much did it cost to build? Who will live in it? Who are the investors? The crux of that first appearance was the project itself.

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Then the Saudi crown prince made a second appearance to explain the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s five-year strategy and to reveal the goal of having the fund’s assets grow to 4 trillion riyals in five years, three trillion of which are to be pumped for investment, while creating 1.8 million new jobs.

The last appearance His Highness made was in an interview during the fourth session of the Future Investment Initiative Conference, where he declared Riyadh to be the capital of the future. He also stated that Riyadh will be the center of attention as it is home to a quarter of the Kingdom’s workforce and about half of the nation’s non-oil product comes from it.

According to the Crown Prince, Riyadh was chosen as a popular attraction because of its good services, which are similar to what New York and Tokyo have to offer. Riyadh also enjoys a good and developed infrastructure thanks to King Salman, who presided over the city for almost 50 years. In fact, if we compare Riyadh to any other Middle Eastern city in terms of services and infrastructure, we will see that Riyadh takes first place, as it houses the best universities, the most powerful medical cities, state-of-the-art means of transportation, and the latest technologies. In other words, Riyadh is poised to be the world’s leading city in terms of attraction for work or tourism.

So, why did I choose to talk about the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia? And what does he have to do with charisma? His past three media appearances were covered by both Arab and international media, from his personal appearance to the economic details of his projects. Young people, in Saudi Arabia and the region, rushed to buy a winter garment that the prince was wearing in his second appearance.

The demand was so high that the designer company issued a statement thanking the Crown Prince for putting its name under the spotlight. His Highness rightfully deserve the thanks as the garment was completely sold out.

Prince Mohammed is courageous and imposing, he has a distinctive body language, a hoarse voice, and self-confidence. All of these attributes were present since the day he took office and during all his meetings with top world leaders, which he conducted confidently. He has a charismatic, inspiring, and strong personality.

However, we must not forget that the Saudi Crown Prince did not speak once about imposing his aspirations on other countries, neither has he mentioned any regional leadership ambitions nor judged, undermined, or intervened in any other country. And above all, he never attempted to rally the crowd with dazzling slogans.

The Crown Prince’s main concern has always been to deliver the projects he promised to serve his country. The focus of foreign media, both East and West, was mainly on the Crown Prince’s talks about the nature of the projects, participation opportunities, and the values of the outputs, as these aspects are considered the real success.

The charisma of any administrative leader is an enticing and attractive quality that will aid them in their journey towards success, whether they were leading a country, a farm, or a grocery store. However, charisma remains but a mere husk that can be peeled and scraped off with time as the true colors of any leader are shown when they face difficult situations and challenges. The future is made by leaders who can take the right actions, can positively influence change, and have the determination to do so.

It is real blessing that Saudi Arabia has a leader with great charisma and the strength and ability to realize the national dream of putting his country at the top of global development rankings.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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