Monday, 04 March 2019
We want to hear what they have to say: they hold our attention and our interest. But what exactly is it that draws us to them and allows them to command their space — and extended space — so convincingly?
Self-belief? Enthusiasm? No one is quite sure what the ‘X-factor’ is that gives people charisma — although we know it for certain when we encounter it. Churchill used it to rally the troops in WWII, Marilyn Monroe used it to amplify her star power and Martin Luther King used it to galvanise a social revolution. On a smaller stage, it is clear when you meet someone with this quality for the draw that they exert. They make you feel interested and energised: in short, they simply aren’t boring or easy to ignore or forget.
A dictionary definition of charisma is “a rare trait found in certain human personalities, usually including extreme charm and a ‘magnetic’ quality of personality or appearance along with innate and powerfully sophisticated personal communicability and persuasiveness”.
In essence, charisma is often used to describe a seemingly uncanny superpower to attract people and influence them — something that marks out but a few special people for greatness. However, the assumed exclusivity of this is now being challenged by academic disciplines from anthropology to behavioural science, as well as high-performance coaching.
The perception of charisma as an innate quality has persisted perhaps because it is so tricky to isolate and describe. Charisma researcher Professor Richard Wiseman has drawn the conclusion that it is in fact 50 per cent innate and 50 per cent learned. For him, charisma is largely a set of behaviours that each of us can integrate into our personality, or tweaks we can apply to qualities we already possess, such as warmth, strong body language and listening skills.
While it might not necessarily make you an Eva Perón or an Elon Musk, enhancing charismatic behaviours is certainly something that will allow you to refine your broadcast and, more pertinently, others’ perception of you. And perception is key here; charisma is, unfortunately, not something you can ascribe to yourself. That said, adopting Professor Wiseman’s assessment means that there are certainly ways to supercharge your unique draw — making it an essential addition to your personal brand.
But why does charisma matter? Is it not enough to do your best and stick to your principles and values? Well, yes, but adding to it with this mosaic of magnetism can play a big part in charging up your success, as charisma naturally goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence. This, in turn, can increase your influence, as charismatic people are noted to be more persuasive in all spheres of life. In a leadership position, exuding a compelling sense of self will help you to inspire, foster coherence and build trust in your team.
Like the effective elements of personal branding, you may be able to learn and work on charisma, but it can't be faked. Whatever techniques and tools you employ to raise your charismatic potential, they must be rooted in your actual abilities, strengths and skills to have resonance and power.
Some writers and academics go even further, and insist that charisma is 100 per cent learned — and that those who already seem to have it, have just internalised certain behaviours at a young age. But while they agree that you can empower yourself with this stardust at any age through personal development, there is still no definitive agreed list of the elements of charisma.
There is, however, broad consensus that charisma involves a high level of emotional intelligence, and a powerful interplay of both attraction and approachability. Ronald Riggio, author of The Charisma Quotient: What it is, How to Get it, How to Use it cites six building blocks that draw heavily on EQ thinking — including social and emotional expressiveness, sensitivity and control. But while possessing more of these blocks of personal charisma is generally better, it is also vital to balance the various skills. “For example, too much emotional expressiveness, without the ability to control and ‘turn it off’ can in fact detract from personal charisma,” he notes. He also makes a distinction between personal charisma and charismatic leadership (i): “Personal charisma is not the same as charismatic leadership, but charismatic leaders possess most, if not all, of the basic building blocks of personal charisma.”
Keynote speaker, author and executive charisma coach Olivia Fox Cabane also believes that this ‘X factor’ can be fully cultivated. In her book, The Charisma Myth, she outlines three keys to charisma that everyone can use every day to ‘up’ their levels of magnetism — presence, power and warmth. Being present in their current situation, warm and welcoming and exuding the ability to get things done are — when combined — the measure of how charismatic a person is, according to Fox Cabane. For her, though, it is presence, above all things, that determines your draw, and provides the foundation for every other positive characteristic.
By contrast, self-doubt is what she calls a ‘charisma killer,' something that, ironically, high performers are more likely to suffer than average performers. Trying too hard is also bad for charisma — grasp for the elusive magic and it will disappear like smoke.
According to much personal development thought, you actually become more ‘magnetic’ when you do less, trust yourself and relax more — and, importantly, are aligned with your true nature, both in what you do and why you are doing it. Again, working on your personal brand (the everywoman workbook ‘An Introduction to Personal Brand’ is a good place to start) can really help to refine this.
Ultimately, happy people doing what they love are far more confident — and magnetic — than those who are out of step with themselves. Make that your charismatic goal and the rest will surely follow.
CHARISMA CHECKLIST: QUICK WAYS TO RAISE YOUR OWN CHARISMATIC POTENTIAL
HAVE A QUICK WIT:
Research from the University of Queensland (ii) found that thinking fast was more likely to foster a perception of charisma than cleverness alone. The ability to act and think quickly in a situation is a powerful indicator of social intelligence.
WATCH HOW YOU USE YOUR BODY LANGUAGE:
How you conduct and carry yourself is key to charismatic presence. Make focused eye contact without being hard or piercing, stand straight and tall, smile often, talk with your hands and keep an open stance.
Develop the quality of being "interested" rather than “interesting". It will also give you an empathetic feel for a person’s mindset so you can create rapport — a common trait of charismatic people.
EMPHASISE POTENTIAL, NOT ACHIEVEMENTS
A Stanford-Harvard study (iii) discovered that people are more engaged when you talk about what you’re capable of accomplishing compared to listing actual achievements.
USE A QUICK AND CALM COMMUNICATION STYLE
There is a close link between charisma and communication and speaking in a calm, yet energetic way — with enthusiasm — strongly adds to perceived charisma.