Charisma has always been an intriguing and controversial topic.
And when I tell people that as part of my leadership work with my team,
I „teach charisma, how to win others in a resonating manner“ they often exclaim…. „But I thought it was something that you’re either born with or not.“ Some see it as an unfair advantage,
others are eager to learn, but everyone is fascinated.
And they are right to be so.
Charisma gets people to like you, trust you and want to be led by you. It can determine whether you’re seen as a follower or a leader, whether or not your ideas get adopted, and how effectively your projects are implemented. Like it or not, charisma can make the world go round –
because it makes people want to do what you want them to do.
Now whenever I’m asked how I got into this field, I have to admit, it was because of ….personal desperation. Because by nature, I was awkward introvert and by my late teens, I realized that I really only had two choices, either exile myself to a desert island or somehow try to make this whole human thing work.
So, I chose the latter,
but I’m still keeping the desert island option open.
In studying charisma,
it turns out that of all the myths surrounding the subject,
the most commonly held was of charisma as an innate, magical personal quality.
Instead, as extensive research has shown, charisma is the result of specific behaviors.
This one of the reasons why charisma levels fluctuate
it can be there one moment and gone the next.
In fact, in controlled laboratory experiments,
researchers were able to raise or lower people’s level of charisma,
as if they were turning a dial,
just by instructing them to display specific charismatic behaviors.
Now one of the reasons why charisma is mistakenly held to be innate is that,
like many other social skills,
charismatic behaviors are usually learned early in life,
when people don’t even consciously realize they are learning them.
They’re just trying new behaviors,
seeing the results and refining them.
Eventually, the behaviors become instinctive.
Some people, however, make a conscious decision that they are going
to learn this whole charisma thing.
Steve Jobs is a great example.
Now, of course, in learning charisma,
not everyone is going to become Steve Jobs,
But everyone can learn enough charisma
to see a measurable difference in their daily lives.
So with that said, what are the behaviors that create charisma?
Well, they fall into three categories of behaviors: 1) behaviors of presence,
2) behaviors of power, and
3) behaviors of warmth.
All three components of presence, power and warmth are critical to achieve charisma.
The only thing that changes is what kind of charisma you will get,
depending on which of these components is strongest.
So, let’s look at each of these components more closely.
When people describe their experience
of seeing charisma in action,
whether they met the Dalai Lama, or Barak Obama, or OprahWinfrey
they often mention what an extraordinary presence the person had.
And presence is the single most requested aspect of charisma when I’m coaching executives
with s personality Neurotraining with my FLOW Consciousness Academy.
They want e.g. to increase their boardroom presence or their executive presence.
And they’re right to focus on it,
because presence turns out to be the real core of charisma, the foundation upon which all else is built.
When you’re with a charismatic master, take Barak Obama, for example,
he gives you the feeling that he’s completely here with you, in the moment. Present.
One day I’ve met a manager, who spoke with me about an other executive of the same company,
without knowing that he had been coached by me, and said..
I hated him before I met him, I hated him after I met him, but while I met him, ma’am, I loved the man !!!
Have you ever felt in the middle of a conversation?
as if only half your mind were present,
while the other half was busy thinking about something else?
Do you think the other person noticed? Yes.
When this happens, there is a good chance that your eyes will glaze over or
that your facial reactions will be a split second delayed.
Here is the thing: because people can read facial expressions in as little as 17 milliseconds,
the person you’re speaking to will likely notice
the smallest delays in your reactions.
And on a gut level, they’ll get the feeling
that something is not quite right, something doesn’t quite fit.
This delay, technically called an incongruence, can even give them the feeling that you’re being inauthentic.
Nothing ruins trust or charisma faster than appearing inauthentic.
We think we can fake presence.
We think we can fake listening.
We think that as long as we seem attentive,
it’s okay to let our minds turn on other things, but we’re wrong.
When you’re not fully present in an interaction,
the person you’re speaking to will likely notice it.
I’m sure you’ve had this experience of speaking
with someone who wasn’t fully listening. You noticed.
So, how do you get presence?
Well, my favorite technique to stay present is to really focus on the colors in the eyes of the person you’re speaking with.
If you pay close attention,
you will see that their eyes contain a dazzling array of colors
that can keep you quite captivated.
And better yet, give you the kind of deep soul searching eye contact
that is extremely powerful.
So, obviously don’t over do it, a little goes a long way.
Realize that giving people your full presence
is one of the most effective ways to make them feel that they’re the center of the universe.
And guess what?
charisma is not just how you make people feel about you,
it’s also how you make them feel about themselves.
I often tell my clients, e.g. top managers, when they are preparing a keynote for the annual presentation in front of the shareholders:
„Don’t try to impress them. Let them impress you and they will love you for it.“
So, that is what charismatic presence can achieve.
Presence, once again, is the core component of charisma, the foundation upon which all else is built.
Together with presence, power, and warmth combine
to create charismatic magnetism.
So, let’s look at power.
Power is not commanding an army. It’s not the actual power you wield. It’s our perception of your ability to affect the world around you.
But be aware …it is not about raw physical power,
or large amounts of money, influence, expertise,
intelligence, high social status and so forth.
We look for clues of power in the person’s appearance, in others‘ reaction to that person,
but most of all in the person’s demeanor in their body language. Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the importance of body language.
But listen to this.
The MIT Media Lab was able to predict the outcome of negotiations,
sales calls, and business plan pitches with 87% accuracy
without listening to a single word of content,
only by analyzing the voice fluctuation and the facial expression of the person pitching.
So what’s a powerful body language like?
Well, imagine an alpha gorilla whose territory
has just been breached by a rival.
Our alpha wants to intimidate the intruder off his territory.
What does he do?
He beats his chest. Why?
Why does he beat his chest? To scare the other people.
To scare the other person?
What’s he signaling, what does beating his chest make him?
Strong, feel strong.
Feel strong, okay, but look technically from here to here,
what does it make him?
It makes him bigger
Stanford researchers found,
alpha humans do exactly the same thing.
They sit on one chair, they drape their arm on a second,
they put their feet upon a third or even on the desk.
These gestures are always of claiming space.
If you picture a nervous, insecure person,
they’re probably claiming a smaller
When people adopt this kind of expansive poses,
it turns out that they experience a measurable physiological shift.
In one experiment, anxiety hormones fell by 19% while assertiveness
and energy boosting hormones rose up by 25%.
So when you assume a physically confident powerful posture,
you actually feel more powerful.
As you feel more powerful, your body language adapts accordingly.
This in turn gives you yet another biochemical boost
and the cycle builds upon itself.
All you have to do is get the cycle going.
Just like an athlete preparing to perform, you’re learning how to play chemist with your own brain. And in a way, a lot of the best charisma tools are learning how to play chemist with your own brain. To get yourself into exactly the kind of mental state you need for peak performance or FLOW.
And this is, of course, a great transition to the mental side of power.
So on the mental side, what hinders our power?
The single biggest obstacle isn’t lack of bank account funds,
it’s not lack of influence, and it’s not lack of status symbols.
The single biggest obstacle is lack of self-confidence and internal coherency.
And when self-confidence is carried out by internal coherency,
this creates an internal alignment between:
with the manifestation of the passional and charismatic leader, who on the stage „walks his talk“.
In one of the manifestations of low self-confidence
called the imposter syndrome,
people feel that they don’t really know what they’re doing.
And it’s just a matter of time before they’re found out and exposed as a fraud.
This syndrome is estimated to hit 70% to 80% of the population.
Dismantling the imposter syndrome is a three-step process:
1) The first step is destigmatizing, which means lifting the stigma of shame off the experience.
Destigmatizing is crucial because shame is a real performance killer.
Of all the emotions the human being can feel,
shame is one of the worst,
which is why destigmatizing is so important and if you are leaders,
you have a critical responsibility.
Because as leaders, it’s you that people turn to,
to understand how they should feel about their experience.
As leaders, you are by definition the alphas of your pack.
People will turn to you to know
how they should react to events and situations.
So you can help them destigmatize
by understanding this feeling as normal, natural, and entirely common.
Now, if de-stigmatizing was step one, 2) detaching is step two. The key to detaching is understanding that our thoughts are not necessarily accurate at all. Just because a thought is in our head
does not mean it has any validity whatsoever.
In one well-known study,
Harvard researchers asked students
to watch a video in which two teams played basketball,
and count the number of passes made by one of the teams.
Afterwards, the researchers asked the students:
did you notice anything unusual about the video?
Some of you know where this is going.
And the students said,
no, but we can tell you the number of times they pass the ball.
What over half the students had missed
is that midway through the game,
a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walked on to the court,
waved her arms at the camera and walked off court again.
Because we have a limited capacity for conscious attention,
which constrains how much we can be aware of at any given moment.
Of the millions of visual inputs our eyes take in every moment,
we only perceive very few.
The conscious awareness of absolutely everything
happening around us would be simply overwhelming.
So to deal with this, our brain filters for relevant information.
Either what we specifically ask to pay attention to, red or blue, or what it considers important for our survival.
In doing so, our mind does not provide us
with a true representation of reality.
Because it has to filter, it gives us an incomplete view presenting only some elements and withholding all others.
Now, most of the time, the elements you’re missing don’t matter.
And the picture you get is fairly useful.
But sometimes, our mind gives us a highly distorted view of reality.
That’s when you get distorted thinking.
And just like an optical illusion
tricks our eyes into seeing things that aren’t real, distorted thinking tricks our mind into being certain that an inaccurate thought is true.
So that’s detaching. Detaching was step two of the dismantling process, after destigmatizing.
3) Step three is learning how to rewrite reality.
And since it’s actually the key tool for warmth, we’re going to see it under the warmth section.
Warmth, simply put, is how much someone give us the impression that they like us.
Warmth tells us whether someone would be inclined to use whatever power they have in our favor.
We perceive warmth almost entirely through body language and behavior.
It’s evaluated even more directly than power.
The important thing to know about warmth is that you cannot fake it.
Because warmth is so closely tied to body language,
Feel into the warmth, feel into this tenderness.
Get into these feelings as much as you can.
Where did you see the biggest difference? In the eyes. The eyes.
Because the area around the eyes
is the most mobile of the entire human face and therefore the most expressive,
When two human beings look deeply into one another’s eyes, what happens? Love, yes.
When two human beings look deeply into one another’s eyes,
there is an adrenaline like substance called phenylethylamine or PEA
that goes gushing through your bloodstream and theirs.
It is the same substance that produces the phenomenon we call love at first sight.
In studies where complete strangers
were asked to stare at each other,
after but a few minutes, participants reported increased affection,
and some even passionate feelings for one another.
So obviously here also you don’t want to overdo it,
but it can be very effective.
Now what are the obstacles to warmth?
Interestingly, they can be the same
as the obstacles to presence or power.
For example, it’s hard to be emitting warmth
when you’re in the grip of self-criticism.
Have you ever been in conversation
when you say something and you immediately think,
oh, that was a stupid thing to say?
What happens to your face?
It grimaces. What emotions show on your face?
When you’re thinking, ooh, that was a stupid thing to say,
what emotions show on your face<ß
Stress. Stress, shame, embarrassment, all of that.
Coldness, criticism, et cetera, yes.
Now this is self-criticism, self-directed tension,
coldness or judgment, yes?
That is why is important to choose a more charisma-enhancing emotion.
This is called rewriting reality and here’s how it works.
Imagine this: it’s 8:00 AM on a Monday morning.
You’re driving on the freeway on your way to a really important meeting.
You will be giving a 30 minute presentation,
which could change the course of your career.
You’re focused, you’re calm, you’re ready.
When all of a sudden a huge black car swerves in front of you,
cuts you off, so with your heart racing
your hands gripping the steering wheel, you stomp on the brake.
The car keeps swerving in and out of your lane
and finally abruptly exits the freeway.
What an idiot, reckless driver.
Now what happened to your body during this episode?
A fight or flight response made your heartbeat accelerate,
your muscles tighten, and stress hormones flood your system.
You know you need to get back into a
charismatic mental and physical state for your presentation,
but you only have a few minutes
and you can’t get that incident out of your mind.
You could try to suppress the anger,
but as Stanford researchers found,
when people are asked to suppress negative emotions
their internal experience often remains unchanged.
And they sustain activated – elevated activation in their amygdala and their cardiovascular system.
What if instead, through a fluke coincidence, you were to learn that that apparently idiotic, reckless driver was actually a distraught mother whose baby was choking in the back seat and it’s all she could do to even keep the car on the highway while trying to save the baby’s life.
Would that immediately alleviate your anger?
For most people, it would.
Deciding to change your belief about what happened,
which is technically called cognitive reframing, effectively decreases the stress in the brain.
So, you might as well choose whichever version of reality puts you in the most useful mental state.
How do you actually create warmth?
With the exercise that we did earlier,
imagining someone for who we have great affection actually works,
and thanks to placebo effect, the warmth actually will be genuine.
Then everything will be in congruence. You’re fine.
However, what if you’re dealing with a really difficult person?
I am sure all of you have at least one of them in your lives.
What do you do then? Well, a couple of things you can try.
First, pick three things about that person that you can approve of.
Next techniques are related to empathy. Think about their past, their childhood.
What was it like growing up in their family of origin
and having their awkward teenage-hood?
Third technique imagine their present. What’s happened to them yesterday or this morning?
Maybe they are feeling really anxious.
And, if you’re having trouble getting
into an empathetic state.
I don’t care what you have to imagine,
whatever is the worst scenario you could possibly imagine,
whether it’s their spouse asking them for divorce that morning,
whether they’ve lost their 2.5 children
that day, anything that works.
The brain does not know the difference
between imagination and reality.
So, to recap once more, charisma is presence, power and warmth. All three components are critical to achieve charisma.
If you are interested in a leadership coaching for CREATING A CHARISMATIC PERSONALITY,
based on neuroscience insights and 30+ years of experience,
fee free to contact me for a first trial (50 minutes free coaching session) writing to: