Charisma – Why it’s important and Why we all have more than we think
Charisma – Why it’s important and Why we all have more than we think
Why you need charisma
If you think about it, it’s very hard to achieve anything major in life on your own. The more people you have to help you, the easier and more successful your time on this earth will be. Being charismatic draws people to you like a magnet – people who are willing to support you in your endeavours and believe in what you stand for. It also helps you get what you want from situations while still being the nice guy, so it’s a vital character trait to develop – a kind of basic life skill.
Here’s another great thing about charisma: it helps you to develop sustainable relationships, because when you’re charismatic, people feel you understand them. This leads to them being happy to work with and help you as much as possible. When was the last time you felt truly understood and respected by someone? If you’re like most people, it’s a rare experience. But for you as a charismatic person these people could well become advocates for you, encouraging others to support you as well. You can see how helping people to feel good about themselves feeds back to you in a virtuous circle.
There is also the advantage that having better relationships makes us happier in ourselves. When we celebrate our uniqueness (more about that in a moment), and become more comfortable in different situations, we’re more likely to fulfil our potential and be confident wherever we are. That means we’ll exploit the opportunities that arise, in a way we couldn’t do if we were focusing on the gap between ourselves and others, rather than on the bonds we could create.
Charismatic people are also listened to. I’m imagining you’d love to be more influential in your work and personal life. Wouldn’t it be great if the next time you came up with an idea in a meeting, everyone turned to you and nodded their heads? ‘Sam’s solved it, what a brilliant suggestion.’ I’m imagining you’re thinking it would be nice if you didn’t have to have charisma in order to be taken seriously, but that’s not the way humans tend to work. You’ll have learned from experience it’s not necessarily the quality of the idea that matters, as much as who’s saying it.
You have a wealth of knowledge and skills – it seems such a waste for them not to be put to full use because you’re not sure how to speak out. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but somebody who’s courageous and willing to take a chance actually makes us feel safe. We’re more likely to invest our trust in them when they’re ahead of us than if we’re on our own, because we gravitate towards people who embody the qualities we would like in ourselves.
Now you may not envisage being a great leader, and you may not even want it. But this isn’t about going to extremes, like becoming a politician or business magnate. This is just about developing the gravitas and influence to draw others to your point of view, in such a way that they support you and want you to succeed.
What charisma is all about
We know when we’ve met someone with true charisma, don’t we? We feel safe, enthused and warm, swept away by the power of their personality. We’d do anything for them. Which makes it feel a bit mystical, even manipulative. And it really it isn’t.
Charisma is essentially the transference of enthusiasm from one person to another.
In some ways it’s easier to talk about what charisma isn’t as opposed to what it is. It isn’t schmoozing, being manipulative, inauthentic, or exploitative. Far from it. Learning to be charismatic is actually about developing skills in creating win-win situations for yourself and the people around you, by developing long term relationships in a collaborative way.
I’m sure you’ve also had the experiences of being ‘sold to’ and know how alienating it feels. You might even have bought things you didn’t intend because the salesman was very persuasive, but you didn’t feel good about the experience and certainly didn’t feel like you wanted to have a relationship with them in the future. That’s not charisma, that’s just short-term manipulation to achieve a self-oriented goal. A truly charismatic salesperson would create an environment in which both parties were equally happy with the outcome, thereby developing a longer term relationship which is relaxed, warm and trusting.
Don’t force it
So being charismatic isn’t about forcing yourself on anyone, it’s about understanding where other people are at and then adapting what you say, and how you say it, to what’s important to them. Of course, you might not always be able to give the other person exactly what they want, but at the very least you can show interest and understanding. The benefit to you is that when you have stronger relationships with people, you’ll be working in a supportive environment that’s increasingly amenable to your needs.
This is the opposite of manipulation. When you’re thinking, ‘so what can I get from this situation with this person?’ it can sometimes work for you in that you might get what you want, but you’re not building anything sustainable for the future. Neither are you obtaining any insight into that person, which means when you’re working with them in the future you’ll find it difficult to understand where they’re coming from and what’s important to them. The difference with charisma is that you’re understanding what makes that person tick. What are their hopes and fears? What do they want? This will help you to align your needs with theirs, which means not only will they feel great about themselves, they’ll also be more positive about you.
Your charisma, your way
True charisma is also based on being authentic. We’re all individuals, with our own personalities and ways of doing things; there’s certainly no cookie-cutter model of a charismatic person to follow. If you’re wondering how you could ever have charisma and still ‘be yourself’ you have no need to worry. Every persuasive and influential person has their own way of creating a charismatic aura.
An advantage of being authentic in your style, is it allows you to validate yourself. So often we try to present a polished version of ourselves based on what we think is the right way to be. As a result, there are positive parts of ourselves that never see the light of day, and so don’t get the response from people they deserve. Over time this can lead to us feeling somewhat ashamed of these areas, which in turn means we can never truly fulfil our potential. Hiding our so-called failings actually undermines our ability to be happy and to integrate fully with the world.
Also, wanting to be seen as perfect means we don’t acknowledge our vulnerabilities even to ourselves, which can make us seem unapproachable. You see, perfect people don’t tend to elicit a positive response in others; on the contrary people are likely to think, ‘Well, this person’s perfect, which means they’re nothing like me, so I can’t talk to them about anything that really matters’.
Striving for perfectionism has the knock-on effect of creating what’s called a fixed mind-set in ourselves. In this, we get so caught up with appearing to be perfect that we avoid situations which might set us back or cause us to ‘fail’. This limits our life opportunities. Alternatively, if we can get up the courage to try something new that might not work, we achieve more personal growth and other people get to really connect with us. This helps us to develop our own brand of charisma – one that’s based on who we really are.
You may have noticed that one of the most appealing things about charismatic people is they’re usually happy to show curiosity and to be the pioneer, even if they might not succeed. Richard Branson is a great example of this. He’s as candid about his business failures as his successes; happy to admit that his aim of making Virgin Cola the number two cola brand in the world didn’t work out. He’s also open about being dyslexic and actually sees it as a strength, encouraging him to delegate more effectively and keep his communications simple and straightforward.
Think about his pioneering experiments with hot air ballooning and space exploration; what better role model could there be for being brave enough to risk failing? Through this, he instils encouragement and strength in others, but without pretending to have all of the answers. If we could read his mind he’d probably be thinking, ‘I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but I’m brave and curious enough to have a try.’
Are you starting to see how developing charisma has the potential to transform your life?
How we show charisma
I’m sure you’ll have seen charisma demonstrated by people in various different ways, for instance through the knowledge a person has, or maybe through their outgoing nature. The truth is there are many facets to charisma, and we can break them down into four main types:
Authority is the type of charisma in which we show gravitas. Someone with an authority-based charisma effectively says, ‘I know what I’m doing, and your hopes and needs are safe with me.’ If you think of yourself I’m sure there’s at least one area in which you really know your stuff, so having the confidence to assert what you know to be true and right is essential in developing knowledge charisma.
Could you be come to be the go-to person for your area of expertise? Would you love to become known as the one who has it all sussed in a particular area? This might be the type of charisma that comes easiest to you.
A word of caution, however. Relying on authority charisma alone, although effective in the short term, can be quite dangerous in the longer run; there’s a risk that a business or political system can become too personality driven, with other people becoming disempowered as a result. Think of Steve Jobs, for example, or even (more contentiously) Adolf Hitler; both men who were hugely persuasive because they were 100% convinced of their own knowledge and ‘rightness’.
So authority charisma can get you so far, but needs to be balanced out with the other types which follow.
You know when you meet someone and they make you feel like you’re the only person in the room? That’s focus charisma. Here’s a well-known quote attributed to Queen Victoria:
‘After dining with Mr Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest person in England. But after dining with Mr Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest person in England.’
Who do you think went on to win that year’s general election? I’ll let you guess. Gladstone’s skill was getting other people to recognise his significance, whereas Disraeli’s was generating the feel good factor in others.
The problem is, we tend to rush around with our minds turned inwards, which means we’re not fully focused on the person we’re with. A classic example is in the body language of some of my charisma workshop attendees. Often their eyes and upper body are turned towards my presentation, but with their feet pointing towards the door; their body is giving away the fact they’re not as fully focused on what’s in front of them as they’re trying to be. Of course, when I good naturedly call them out on this, it raises a laugh; it’s so easy to think we’re fully focused on someone when we’re actually not.
So often we go for the most direct route to getting what we want, which is to try to alter someone else’s perception of us rather than to focus on giving them what they want. Only by doing the latter do we build goodwill and long term, beneficial relationships, which is what focus charisma is all about.
Inspirational examples of people with focus charisma are The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. Both quiet people, they have (and had) the ability to give others their full attention and to be fully attuned to their needs and responses. If you were to meet them, you would leave with the impression they had been keen to understand more about you, and this can be incredibly powerful because we all want to feel understood and accepted.
This type of charisma isn’t about being nice in the wishy-washy sense, nor does it involve being a doormat. It’s about exuding an aura of warmth and compassion. People with kindness charisma are likeable in the most powerful sense of the word, in that they make the person they’re with feel totally safe and taken care of.
How often do you do something for someone else, with no thought of what you’ll get in return? And when was the last time you were on the receiving end of such kindness? Even if it was a long time ago, I’m sure you still remember the person who helped you with a huge sense of gratitude.
Consider people like Mother Theresa and Princess Diana – they both had an aura of kindness. It’s also worth pointing out they were not necessarily the life and soul of the party, nor were they famous for getting up on stage and making powerful speeches. But they were instinctively drawn to recognise other peoples’ needs; they put others first and were extremely approachable as a result. The people around them recognised their ability to connect, and felt inspired by them.
We all need ideas to feel inspired, and people with visionary charisma derive their attraction from the distinctiveness and bravery of the ideas and beliefs they espouse.
Think of the books you’ve read and the films you’ve watched in which a heroic leader struggles against the odds to be accepted for their unorthodox views. There’s something in you cheering them on, isn’t there? Because we all admire someone for standing up for what they believe to be true.
Again, people with visionary charisma are not necessarily extroverts but those who create their aura by stepping away from the crowd. Think about Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin; although to many they seem like IT geeks, if that’s all they are, how have they managed to achieve such enormous success? There’s a facet of them that’s different to most people: that they had ideas outside of the norm and were visionary enough to pursue them against all odds.
How this relates to you
By breaking down charisma into its four types, I’m demystifying the concept so you can see there’s potential for you to excel in each one of these areas. A charismatic person can work in all sorts of different ways.
You will certainly gravitate towards one or two of the types more than the others, so that’s the best place for you to start.
If you didn’t identify with any of these charisma types, don’t worry, this little exercise to come will help you choose which type of charisma comes most naturally to you.
Do this next
This might make you feel uncomfortable, but bear with me. I want you to pick half a dozen people from different areas of your life; they could be your spouse, a good friend, your boss, a work colleague – you get the picture. Next, ask them what they would recognise as being your ‘best’ qualities. You’ll probably find the strengths they identify will cluster around certain areas; for instance, they might say how easy you are to talk to (kindness charisma could be your strength), or what a great problem solver you are (in which case visionary charisma might be for you).
I’m imagining you’ll cringe from doing this activity. We find it hard to expose ourselves to others, don’t we? But I’d urge you to get on and do it, because you’ll get an objective view of yourself that would be impossible to achieve on your own. And a great side benefit is you get to hear all sorts of lovely things about yourself, which will build your self-esteem – something which is essential for charisma. We tend to spend a lot of our time focusing on our negatives, and on what we lack rather than what we have; in my work as a therapist I find my clients can readily rattle off a list of times when people have criticised them, but struggle to remember one positive memory. So learning to celebrate our positives is a good way to get a more balanced view of who we are.
Not only that, but because we don’t tend to recognise our strengths as much as we could, we end up taking them for granted, which means we’re not able to apply the best of ourselves consistently. If you don’t recognise you are, for instance, very good at creating a sense of authority, you’re unlikely to make a point of actively recreating that every time you’re with someone. The more aware we become of where our strengths lie, the better we can play to them.
So, have you done your research? Write down your six key strengths.
And write down the four charisma types that relate most to you here (in descending order). Authority, focus, kindness or visionary.
Now you’re well on your way to developing your own authentic brand of charisma.
The three elements of charisma
So we’ve talked through the four types of charisma. To make it easier to understand, you can liken them to four different ways of dressing: casual, formal, evening, and work wear. They’re just alternative ways of presenting your charisma to the world.
However, each type is also made up of three elements:
Think of these elements as being what you need to put on in order to create those outfit types: you’d need a top, bottom, and shoes, wouldn’t you? These are the three factors which create your charisma, and without them all working in harmony you won’t have the beneficial influence you desire.
All three elements working together to create charisma
Instinctively we know when someone is fully present with us, don’t we? We might not consciously realise it, but we just get that secure feeling about them. We feel special and valued, and if someone values us we’re more likely to value them because we like to reciprocate. Likewise, when a person beams all their energy onto us, we’ll give them ours, which means we’re more likely to go away with a positive impression of them fixed in our minds. My wife will sometimes say, ‘That’s a nice person, I’ll remember him.’
Alternatively, think about how you feel when you’re talking to someone whose eyes dart around or whose smile suddenly drops away. They’re not giving you their full attention, and as a result they lack presence for you. Subconsciously you feel uncomfortable: something’s wrong but you can’t quite work out what it is. It’s impossible to relax into the conversation because part of your mind is monitoring what’s going on. We have a fundamental human urge to feel protected, so when someone makes us feel ill at ease we want to get away from them.
You can see how having a strong presence in the company of others is a key ingredient in having charisma. And presence also has a strong link to the focus type of charisma which we talked about earlier. If you find focus relatively easy then you’ll also find developing a sense of presence will come fairly naturally to you.
Well-known examples of people with charismatic presence: The Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton. Both men are very much ‘in the moment’ with those they’re in the presence of.
Power in charisma means you’re perceived as someone who is able to influence the world around you.
People can exude power in many different ways. It could be in terms of their physical size and strength, their status, their wealth, or their knowledge. Like presence, being with somebody who is benevolently powerful makes us feel safe, so we’re able to relax with them and enjoy their company.
You’ve probably got more power than you think; if you’re an expert in your field or know more than other people around you about something that matters to them, that’s a source of power. The key is to show those around you you’re happy to use it for their benefit, by matching your knowledge with the right kind of body language and tone of voice. Charismatically powerful people always give others the time of day; by showing you’re happy to use your knowledge in the service of your colleagues, you’re effectively saying, ‘My power is no threat to you, because I want to help you.’
This means power has to be combined with presence in order for us to feel convinced of the charismatic person’s interest. Have you have seen a chat show interview with an actor who’s clearly going through the motions? They may have an influential aura, but their lack of interest neutralises the power they could have put across.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking charismatic power is about getting one over on other people. When a person makes a big deal about their power it’s usually done from a position of insecurity (charisma entails comfortable in your own skin).
Power has a strong link to the visionary and authority types of charisma; if you’ve worked out you’ve got strengths in these areas, developing your power element of charisma will be easier for you than for many.
Well-known examples of people with charismatic power: Barack Obama and Madonna. Please note these people have their detractors as well as their fans – all facets of charisma necessitate standing up for what you believe in.
If you have a warmly charismatic personality you’re seen as someone who can influence the world in a positive way, which can make you hugely influential. It’s closely linked to power in that it’s related to persuading others.
Warmth is also closely connected to how you build relationships with people and develop rapport. A charismatic person will show their warmth through open and measured body movements, and by communicating at a pace which allows others to engage with the conversation. It’s inclusive.
Conversely, think about people you know who are tense and on edge when you’re with them. Your subconscious mind is put on alert, even if you’re not sure why; sudden movements and a lack of relaxation are the opposite of warmth.
A lack of perfectionism is essential when conveying warmth, and one way to do this is in your conversation. If you’re at a networking event, for instance, you can treat people in such a way as it shows you’re in the same boat as them – not sure who to talk to and feeling a bit nervous. That helps you to be approachable and exercise your warm charisma with them.
Warmth has a strong link to the kindness and focus types of charisma, so if the personal feedback you got was that you’re strong in these areas, then developing a warmly charismatic persona will be a natural progression for you.
Well-known examples of people with charismatic warmth: Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Fry. Both are highly successful people who don’t try to portray themselves as being perfect and come across as inclusive and accessible.
So now you’ve identified the one or two key types of charisma you feel most at home with, and you know about the importance of presence, power, and warmth, you’ll be getting an idea of which elements of the charismatic model you’re going to find easiest and most difficult. You’ll also be starting to have an idea of what your own, authentic ‘brand’ of charisma could look like.
A word of caution, though. In my charisma workshops I sometimes find people are tempted to make some kind of instant personality transplant, and this never works. They find they can’t keep up the pretence, and in any case it’s exhausting and unnecessary. Instead, I help you to move outside of your comfort zone in small increments, by experimenting with small things you wouldn’t normally do. By taking these steps you’ll be rehearsing, through repetition, your newly charismatic persona. Gradually it will start to integrate into who you are, so you’re still being true to yourself, but you’re also allowing yourself to expand and grow.
Please focus on the positives you’ve identified so far, and make them more consistent, but don’t lose sight of the other areas in which you can develop. If you’re not sure how that’s going to work for you yet, please feel free to sign up for one of our Masterclasses or coaching bundles and we’ll support you with everything that you need: