Recently, I was honored to receive a Governor’s Shine Award from Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. The award is given to eight or nine teachers each month to recognize not only the teachers’ efforts in the classroom but also their particular subject area. January 26-30 is Literacy Week, so this month language arts and reading teachers were given the award.
I had never met Governor Scott. A few times we have been in the same church service, but I’ve never been introduced until the award ceremony. Although I’m not a fan of his politics/political party, his view on education, or his cutting funding from education and the disabled population, he is still the governor; therefore, he deserves respect.
After our short meeting, I can see why he is such a successful person: he’s got charisma. According to author Kevin Daum, charismatic people "genuinely and instinctively focus their eyes, ears, and soul on your being, not theirs. They make you laugh, they make you feel heard, they make you feel special or fascinated or safe or interesting. It isn't the same feeling in every case. But people connect and stay because they are having strong, positive emotions in the presence of someone truly charismatic.”
When Governor Scott looked at me, I felt that he was interested in only me and what I had to say. He seemed very genuine in his interest in my family and career, even commenting that he couldn’t believe I had been teaching for over three decades. I don’t think he had an earpiece with someone telling him these tidbits of information about each award recipient; he had either studied beforehand or he just has one heck of a memory.
Regardless, I felt included and valued, which is what a person with charisma can do.
Now I see how he can win the highest political office in the state without ever having held a political office -- ever. I understand how his corporation can be fined $600 million dollars for Medicare fraud, him plead the Fifth Amendment 75 times and then not be implicated, and afterwards go on to be elected by the majority of voters.
Thirty-eight years ago, I had my picture taken with another governor, George C. Wallace of Alabama. I was a page for the state senate and was photographed with my representative, T. Dudley Perry and Gov. Wallace. My 18-year-old self felt very honored.
I grew up hearing the name Wallace associated with the governorship. Wallace had a long, if somewhat chopped-up reign as governor. He served from 1963-1967, 1971-1979 and 1983-1987. The period between ’67 and ’71, his wife was governor until her death while in office, so he was still pulling strings. After his famous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” at the University of Alabama to stop integration, he became labeled as a true segregationist. He ran for President several times and was paralyzed when an assassin shot him during a campaign stop in 1972.
How could Wallace go from being a staunch segregationist in the ‘60s to winning the African-American vote to be elected his final term? He had charisma. When I was a little girl, I went to a fish fry/political rally for Wallace, and I remember how excited my mom was to meet him. He could charm the ladies and, even with his short stature, he presented himself as a tough guy ready for the fight, which appealed to men. He was a fine orator who could hold his own at the podium. In essence, he was mesmerizing.
Is charisma all it takes to be elected to political office or to just get ahead in life? No, but it certainly is a big part of success. I have always appreciated a person who looks at me when I‘m talking to him/her and seems to feel like the words I’m saying are the most important ones ever, even if he/she has heard them a million times before. When I'm around people like this, I have to remember that just because they are charismatic doesn't mean they know what they are doing. I hope that in my thirty-eight years between governors, I can see the difference between someone who is playing to my vanity and patronizing me and someone who is truly wise.