“Can you teach me charisma?” he asked. I was working with a CEO on a consulting project and the more we talked about the importance of building rapport with people, the more interested he became. I was sure I could teach anyone the basics of charisma as long as he or she had the IQ to learn and the desire to change. It was the latter that sabotaged my efforts – he never learned charisma, he only wanted to acquire the ability to get more from people. He said he really didn’t like people and as soon as he sold his company he hoped to acquire a small island where he and his wife could live.
We talk about charisma as an indefinable “something” that makes certain people seem more confident, charming, trustworthy and appealing. We want to be around them and work for them and get to know them. For all of us who aren’t born naturally charismatic, charisma is a useful quality to learn.
Research indicates, contrary to earlier opinion, that charisma is not an ineffable quality that someone either has or doesn’t have; it’s a series of traits that can be examined, learned and used.
The word charisma comes from the Greek word “charis” meaning grace or gift, which is what charismatic people seem to have. Charismatic people are seen as inspiring, confident and assertive as well as warm. Personalities like Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey and Sir Richard Branson have been labeled charismatic.
According to Olivia Fox Cabane who wrote “The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism,” in lab experiments people can turn their charisma quotient up or down. Cabane broke charisma into three segments: power, presence and warmth. When we meet someone we immediately determine if they are friend or foe (their warmth) and if they have intentions to enact their behavior (their power). Her advice in acquiring charisma: stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla and speak like a preacher.
Charismatic people tend to continually eliminate dwelling on mistakes and pay attention to what’s next. Until we can create the mindset of discarding past mistakes we won’t have the ability to focus on the present.
Cabane says lack of self-confidence is the biggest challenge to becoming charismatic. Those with imposter syndrome think they don’t belong in the position they are in and eventually will be found a fraud. Amy Cuddy spoke about it in “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.” Every year when the incoming class at Stanford Business School is asked how many of them think they are the one mistake the admissions committee made, two-thirds of the class raise their hands.
We can’t outperform faulty thinking, but we can change it. Let’s look at how can we add charismatic qualities to create the mindset we need under any circumstances:
- If you’re annoyed with anyone you’re aiming a small dart straight at yourself. This thinking injects negative chemicals into your body leaving no energy left to lead, be creative or problem solve. Choose to let it go. You get to choose how you’re reacting and misery is always optional.
- Use your non-verbal language to draw people to you. Think of Cabane’s “stand like a gorilla” stance. Keep arms and hands open, not crossed, in pockets or behind your back. Smile, lean in slightly and make eye contact. Think of Amy Cuddy’s power poses before you go into any room. The most popular are ‘Wonder Woman’ or ‘Super Man,’ with hands on hips, legs apart and shoulders back.
- Standing in this pose helps send more testosterone into your blood stream to help you feel confident. Pay attention to your breathing. Your voice should be at its lowest. If you’re nervous and take shallow breaths, you’ll speak slightly higher than your natural voice. Think of speaking to someone you care about, you want warmth, confidence and power in your voice. Always speak slightly louder than you think you should to prevent coming across too timid.
- Create the state of mind you want. It might be biking through open country, reading on a Saturday afternoon or doing something with your children. Think about the feeling associated with what you love to do. Imagine pulling a lever that makes you feel it to an even greater extent.Psychologist Williams James applied this formula when he found himself feeling like a failure, so much that he was contemplating suicide. He decided to give himself a year to get his act together. During that year he imagined how he wanted to feel and pretended that was really happening. Through this simulation he managed to change his life completely.
- Keep a list of all your successes and a list of five successful people who have overcome obstacles. Know your strategies for mentally handling and overcoming challenges. Many grad students have tremendous knowledge but when something doesn’t work, a job interview, a date or a test, they fall to pieces. You’ve got to have the resources to bounce back. Those who are the most resilient are always ahead of the game.
- Know your beliefs. If you want something and aspire for it and yet you don’t think you are capable of getting it for any reason, then you’re wasting your time. Your beliefs must align with what you want. Two people go on a job interview – one believes she can get it and the other wishes she had more experience because she isn’t qualified. They’re both equally qualified. Reality is what we make it.
- Use your intelligence and confidence to appreciate others every single day. Kody Bateman, Founder of SendOutCards, the online greeting card system, started his company after failing to say goodbye to his brother when he moved. His brother was killed soon after in an accident and Bateman decided he would never let a day go by that he didn’t tell someone how much he or she was appreciated. By thanking others and finding ways to help them succeed we attract opportunity and create our own luck.
Charisma is a series of behaviors that can be learned, modified and changed. Some learn it early and without conscious knowledge continue refining it. Others consciously work to acquire it.
Walter Isaacson described how Steve Jobs studied the charismatic qualities of his mentor, Robert Friedland, and changed from a shy, self-effacing man to a highly confident, riveting individual. Charisma is something anyone can acquire. Henry David Thoreau always seemed to have a common sense answer to most questions. When it comes to adding charisma to your repertoire, I like to think his advice makes sense:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Jennifer Webb’s extraordinary programs combine magic, psychology, NLP, Emotional Intelligence and other disciplines to reach people instantly with messages of inspiration and content. Business communications specialist, performance coach, author of four books on human potential and motivational magician/speaker with a background and graduate degree in psychology, Jennifer teaches how to increase peak performance and create and reach goals. Her client base ranges from Honeywell Space Systems to Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Microsoft, American Airlines, the U.S. Navy and Airforce and leaders in numerous industries. She also served as a personal power coach for CBS Morning News, Reno affiliate for three years.