Published April 09, 2012
Great leaders are inspiring. They touch us in ways that make us believe in the cause--whether it’s making quarterly sales numbers or taking to the streets in protest. We feel compelled to take action.
A person's ability to touch and motivate others is often referred to as charisma.
Throughout history, charisma has been viewed as a special trait or ability that just comes naturally to a select few. Essentially, it’s the notion that “great people” are born and not made, an idea many still believe. Consider that when we describe charisma, it’s usually in terms of the individual as opposed to the concept.
So, this begs the question: Can charisma be taught?
According to Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, the answer is yes.
Cabane rejects the notion that charisma is purely driven by inborn traits and abilities, a notion most psychologists agree with. Human behaviors are driven by a more than just our natural attributes: Context, environment, and our ability to learn certainly play a role in developing behavior.
Cabane views charisma as a set of behaviors which she believes can be taught to anyone if they are willing to put in the time and effort. She explains that charisma is really about getting people to do what you want them to.
For the most part, Cabane’s techniques to learn charisma are focused on changing your mindset to influence your body language. The idea is to provide individuals with the tools necessary for accessing, honing, and utilizing their assets to influence others to action. However, it’s not just about simple tricks. Cabane notes that it’s important to be genuine in how your project yourself because “we are terrible liars as human beings” and people will pick up on fake attitudes and disingenuous offers.
Learning charisma starts with reshaping your mental state and then manifesting those changes through physical gestures that accurately project that mental state.
Cabane defines charisma as being comprised of three elements: presence, power, and warmth. Cabane believes charismatic individuals possess varying degrees of each trait that combine to manifest as a form of personal magnetism. Here are the three traits:
Presence. Presence is being fully focused, aware, and engaged in what you are doing. Whether driving a car or having a conversation, you must be present in order to be as effective as possible. One of the greatest impediments to presence is our internal monologue. "It’s hard to be fully present in an interaction when your brain is beating yourself up,” she says.
We’ve all experienced self-criticism and how it can bring us down. Cabane advises her clients to use meditative techniques to clear their minds before engaging in interactions that will require them to demonstrate confidence and engagement.
Power. We have a tendency to evaluate others through our interpretations of their style and body language, and according to Cabane, people typically accept what you project.
It’s critical to project the right image if you hope to influence those around you. The way you dress and act can have a tremendous impact on how others see you. Cabane recommends tweaking your physical state (dress, grooming…) so as to impact your own psychological state and boost confidence.
Warmth. Cabane says that projecting warmth is the toughest of the three charisma components to teach. “Warmth," she explains, "Simply put, is goodwill toward others.”
However, the goodwill you intend may not always come across in your body language. To remedy this, you have to understand your message first and then match your body language to that message. Simple behaviors like the way you angle your head in conversation can make the difference between being perceived as arrogant or warm.
It's important to remember that we can’t change our personality, but we can change our behavior. There are certainly traits that predispose some individuals to learning and demonstrating charismatic behaviors better than others. It’s no different in the sports world. There are countless examples of athletes who were able to overcome perceived physical limitations only to break the standards for achieving success. The same can be said for learning charisma. It all starts with the mind. As Cabane explains “whatever your mind believes, your body will manifest.”
Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook