You're squirming in your seat, wondering if the next speaker can possibly be less inspiring than the preceding one, when, suddenly, the room falls silent. Looking poised and confident, the next presenter smiles and then begins.
Instantly, it's clear that he's good:
His strong, measured voice, his relaxed tone, his precisely articulated and well-chosen words, even his classy but understated appearance seem to fixate the crowd. You think, "Wow! Who is this guy?" And then you realize it's just not what he is saying, or how he looks. It's his whole being. As his voice and gestures signal that he's nearing the high point of his remarks, you feel yourself soaring, rationally as well as emotionally, along with the ideas he presents so passionately... so much so that you know you'd probably follow him to a convention of cannibals if that's where he wanted to lead you. This guy has it!
But what does he have? What do real leaders have that can inspire you and draw you to them and can cause you to perform beyond expectations to accomplish goals? Is it speaking well... or being socially adroit... or projecting an attractive, exciting image? Actually, it's all that-and more.
For lack of a better term, we often group such qualities under the term charisma. I've been studying, teaching, and writing about human behavior, especially in business, for more than 20 years now. As a result, probably like you, I know charisma when I see it-even if it's sometimes hard to pinpoint. But here's my definition: Charisma is the ability to positively influence others by connecting with them physically, emotionally and intellectually.
In brief, it's what makes people like you and enjoy being around you... even when they don't know much about you. This personal magnetism can exist at the level of mass movements-such as politicians and evangelists-or in the small-scale encounters of everyday life, such as the shop owner who makes you feel so comfortable and valuable that you cheerfully drive a few extra miles to her store.
I'm convinced that, contrary to popular wisdom, charisma is not something you're born with, like having blue eyes or brown eyes. Instead, I think our personalities consist, let's say, of a series of containers, like cups or glasses. Some are nearly empty, some brimming, yet others are partially filled to varying degrees. Together, they constitute our potential charisma.
If all the glasses were filled to the top, you'd be so charismatic people would think you were a god-and you'd probably think so, too. But nobody has a complete set of totally full glasses, although some really gifted people-JFK or, say, Churchill-may have come close to this ideal. But, for most of us, the glasses are filled a bit erratically, though we can add to them. Here, as I see them, are the seven main components of charisma-or, the "glasses," if you will:
1. Your silent message...
You unconsciously send out signals to others. Maybe you look them right in the eye, or maybe you stare at your shoes when you talk. Perhaps you slump your shoulders, or maybe you square them confidently. You may fail to smile naturally or shake hands firmly, or you might dress in a way that's not you. All these shape your image and affect the people you want to lead.
2. Your persuasive talent...
No idea, however great, ever gets anywhere until it's adopted. Charismatic executives can distill complex ideas into simple messages so that even the guy who sweeps the floor understands what the company stands for and why that's important.
3. Your ability to speak well...
You may have a zillion terrific ideas, but who will know if you can't articulate them?
4. Your listening skill...
Rarely taught and infrequently practiced, listening is nonetheless a key to communicating and making others feel special in your presence.
5. Your use of space and time...
Again, though it's often overlooked, use of spatial and temporal territories can make or break relationships.
6. Your ability to adapt to others...
Building rapport means understanding other people's personalities, then adapting your own behavior to increase compatibility.
7. Your vision, your ideas...
Regardless of how strong and persuasive a speaker you are, how adept you are at connecting with others, how well you listen, use your space or time, or send out silent signals, you've still got to have something to say... or you'll just be an empty suit.
So, it's not a single ingredient that makes a person charismatic, and, more important, charisma isn't based on IQ, genetics, social position, wealth or luck. Instead, it can be learned.
Why Charisma Matters
Learning to improve your charisma is more important than ever. Why? Change calls for strong, mesmerizing leaders.
In our age of startups, acquisitions, turnarounds, mergers, downsizing, and all other sorts of rapid, unpredictable change, especially in business, that's more true than ever.
Television and our general emphasis on the visual make charismatic people more effective. (Remember: The physical is a big component of "the silent message" glass.)
Our expectations have risen. We've come to demand more from people than mere competence. When even the local car dealer or supermarket manager can be seen as articulate, personable, and persuasive in a slick TV ad, we no longer readily accept those who squirm, stumble over their words, and don't quite look us in the eye.
The old-fashioned kind of hierarchy, the command-and-control environment, is passé. Even the highest-ranking officials need more than their title to get people to accept their ideas. Instead, in this era of "empowerment," when empathy and support are revered, charismatic people stand out because they're communicators who are able to see things from another's perspective and, thus, continually seek to find the common ground.
Those with personal magnetism, or charisma, are usually self-confident optimists. Viewing almost all problems as solvable-focusing on desired results rather than possible failures-helps encourage people to step forward and convert fear into challenge.
All of these are reasons for you to try to greatly improve your charisma. Remember that even if you never get a chance to head a corporation, spearhead a movement or even hold office in the local PTA, you can use your charisma, present or future, to do good for yourself and others, to make for positive change in ways large and small.
Connecting with People
A person who develops his or her charisma is likely to do well in all aspects of life. That's because, on several different levels, they better connect with people. By definition, the charismatic person is more other-directed, more empathic. That gives them more personal power-and that's a big plus for anybody.
Take basketball star Michael Jordan-certainly one of the most charismatic athletes of all times. Despite being the most-heralded professional player of his era, he quit the hardwoods to play minor-league baseball for a time. He didn't make it to the big leagues, but he didn't strike out with his millions of fans, who may have thought his ill-starred tenure with the Birmingham Barons made him, if anything, more human.
As you seek to improve you charisma and personal power, remember that when people feel someone is making them do something, they're often frustrated and resentful-and as a result, they dig in their heels. The truly charismatic person strives to create feelings of collaboration and equality. They approach others interactively and try to give them a choice.
Be aggressively optimistic and willing to be the first to do something and to take the heat if it doesn't work out. Charismatic people have heard all the bromides about why you can't rock the corporate boat ("We've never done it that way before." "It's too radical a change."), but they just pay less attention to them.
Instead, they relish a challenge, not just for themselves but for their followers, too, who wish to take risks and be allowed to make some mistakes. So if you give your people some control over resources and influence over how to do a task, you'll help them build self-confidence.
In fact, the charismatic person often good-naturedly challenges, prods and pokes as he or she encourages others to stretch themselves. Again, take Michael Jordan. It was said, even in practice, that he was the loudest, most demanding player on the court, goading the other Bulls to give their all. It was his way of being inspirational; he never stopped competing, even when no one was keeping score.
The potential to be charismatic leader is within you, too. And the payoff for doing so has never been higher.
Dr. Tony Alessandra has authored 17 books translated into 11 languages, recorded over 50 audio and video programs, and delivered thousands of keynote presentations since 1976. He's an expert on customer loyalty, collaborative selling, and adapting to different behavior styles.