by Nikki Owen

In a nutshell

1. What is charisma?

Until recently, many believed that you either had charisma or not.

  • In 1947, renowned German sociologist, Max Weber, defined charisma as a set of traits or distinguishing qualities, such as being visionary, energetic, unconventional and exemplary.
  • Robert House decided that charisma is a set of behaviours, such as exhibiting high levels of self-confidence, persistence, determination, passion and optimism.
  • In 1995, Fernando Molero, an expert researcher on charisma and Transformational Leadership proposed a new classification of charisma, based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis.
  • Today, experts in the field of communication and influence highlight that charisma is something that can be identified, developed and nurtured within everyone.
  • Charisma can be summarised and defined as ‘a power that captivates the hearts and minds of others’.


2. Why is charisma advantageous?

Charisma can be summarised and defined as ‘a power that captivates the hearts and minds of others’

  • The more positively others respond to you, the easier it will be for you to get the things you want.
  • Charismatic people create higher performing teams.
  • They build stronger relationships with customers.
  • They are more likely than others to prove able to lead successful change projects.


3. Learning charisma from charismatic icons

The history books and newspapers are full of examples of famous people who either possessed or still do possess high levels of charisma. Disturbingly, charisma can be a ‘gift’ that is bestowed on the unworthy as well as the worthy. It chooses not to distinguish between good or bad. It purely provides its recipients with varying levels of all-encompassing attraction.

  • Reviewing Dr Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, Baroness Thatcher and Muhammad Ali, we see how they possessed the power to command attention.
  • Both Hitler and Idi Amin, while thoroughly malevolent as individuals, possessed charisma.
  • Charisma brings responsibility and power: if you use this power with positive intent for others, you will be acting from an inner platform of compassion and integrity.


3. External differences

Psychologists believe that the non-verbal elements of communication are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitudes. Consequently, it makes sense to examine the non-verbal elements or behaviours exhibited by a wide-range of charismatic people to identify different external characteristics.

  • There are major differences between charismatic icons – Margaret Thatcher used eye contact a lot, for example, while Presley often sang with his eyes shut.
  • King spoke with passion, while Ali often spoke with wit, humour and gentleness.
  • All, however, exuded confidence, expertise and enthusiasm.


4. Charisma is contextual

The charismatic individual who shines in a career context can be almost invisible in a social or home environment.

  • Individuals with high levels of charisma possess the ability to switch their magnetism off and on.
  • Whether the ability to switch charisma on or off is a conscious decision or an instinctual reaction, very few people can sustain a high charismatic presence around the clock.
  • Charm alone does not create a charismatic presence – the essence and intensity of a person’s character must be powerfully relayed, so that people feel that the charismatic person is being their genuine, authentic self.


5. Charisma equation

A charismatic person requires the ability to charm, combined with strength of character.

  • If an individual lacks authenticity, if they don’t mean what they say, they will dilute the strength of their character and consequently the strength of their charisma.
  • They may lie to others, but they don’t lie to themselves.
  • Charm due to a desire to please, but lacking sincerity, diminishes charisma.


6. A Freudian viewpoint

Freud suggests that in the initial stages of a child’s development, the infant is not able to experience any difference between himself and his external reality.

  • Because of earlier infant perceptions, the desire to return to this feeling of power and connectedness remains, burning strongly within the child and then the adult, throughout their life.
  • The human being has a basic need to search for a symbolic order of the universe – a sense of coherence, continuity and justice.
  • We will choose to look outwards in search of a charismatic leader who will bring order into our chaos, or inwards, recognising the charismatic person that is already inside us.


7. Working from inside out

The external behaviours exhibited by charismatic people can be interpreted as a reaction to or an effect of an internal cause.

  • Looking to discover the inside ‘causes’ of the ‘outside’ effects, can provide the ultimate process for accessing charisma.
  • If you try to emulate a particular charismatic individual, you effectively ‘act’, modelling external characteristics that may or may not reflect your own external characteristics. This dilutes the emotional intensity of your communication.


8. The five attributes of charisma

Charismatic people may exhibit differing characteristics and mannerisms, but they all possess the five star qualities.

  • They possess high self esteem and feel ‘comfortable in their own skin’.
  • They have a strong driving force – their values.
  • Their sensory awareness allows them to tap into their feelings and the feelings and mood of others.
  • Charismatic people have a vision of what they want.
  • They have a high energy that perpetuates and builds energy within others, creating a ‘feel good’ factor.


9. How to build and develop self-esteem

Individuals who possess high levels of self-esteem feel comfortable with themselves and are able to be authentic with others in every situation. Understanding what factors impact on self-esteem enables individuals to take control of building and developing a strong sense of self-worth, in themselves and others.

  • Managerial actions that erode self-esteem at work include being critical rather than constructive, encouraging a blame culture and wanting everything done your way.
  • Behaviours that develop self-esteem include identifying what makes each person unique, respecting each individual’s point of view and creating a supportive learning environment.


10. The driving force

When people are consciously aware of what is important to them in all aspects of their life, they create a strong electro-magnetic field that attracts attention. The more an individual understands what motivates them personally, the more it enables the person to build personal magnetism.

  • Every individual is motivated by different things, yet these can be generalised into their needs and wants. If their needs aren’t satisfied, then the individual will become de-motivated. If their needs are satisfied, then what they want becomes the driving force.
  • Many managers make the mistake of trying to motivate their team in the same way or based on what is important to the manager, but the best way to motivate a person is to identify what they value as important, in the context of their careers, and then use this information to motivate and leverage their performance.


11. Sensory awareness

Charismatic managers have the ability to create a lasting impression on others because they are able to ‘connect’ at a deep level. The ability to build rapport is a vitally important part of influencing and creating a charismatic team of individuals, under a charismatic manager, who can out-perform non-charismatic teams.

  • The process we use unconsciously to build rapport can be replicated with conscious awareness. This process can be likened to matching and mirroring a person’s behaviour to create a perceived likeness.
  • You can learn how to build rapport by using various simple techniques, such as matching your breathing rate to that of the other person.


12. Developing a personal vision

Many people whom we recognise as being highly charismatic are on a dedicated quest to achieve a vision that stirs and evokes attention. This vision is often far bigger than they can realistically achieve, yet it is so compelling. This creates an intensive force field around the individual that begins to act like a giant magnet.

  • The Law of Attraction states that even if an individual does not possess a ‘huge’ vision, they can still replicate this force field by employing ‘directed intention’. This means that individuals first start paying attention to their thoughts before deliberately directing them towards what they want to achieve.
  • One of the most important skills that a charismatic manager can possess is to set goals that are so well defined and so compelling, that they become embedded deep into the unconscious mind, consequently acting as a powerful force that drives motivation and behaviour.


13. Raising energy levels

Charismatic people simultaneously radiate and absorb extremely high levels of energy because they can balance their attention equally on the needs of others as well as themselves. As the charismatic individual takes in more energy, they are able to radiate even higher levels of an energy that continues to build between themselves and the person or people to whom they are paying attention.

  • Whether you are a manager responsible for a team of individuals or an individual working for a manager, energy drainers can happen with surprising frequency in many work-related environments.
  • Energy drainers include artificial lighting, apparently meaningless work, a climate of fear or uncertainty and unrealistic goals.
  • Ways to balance energy include taking breaks outdoors, dealing with negative internal dialogue and paying attention to others.


14. Transcendental powers

From a metaphorical perspective, there is another layer of understanding that connects the charismatic person to the universal powers of nature. Many ancient philosophies refer to a set of five elements that generally encompass earth, water, air, fire and a fifth, non-matter, element – spirit. The characteristics and qualities of each of these elements provide further symbolism to underpin the five elements of charisma.

  • Earth corresponds to self esteem and a feeling of being grounded.
  • Fire corresponds to the driving force.
  • Water relates to sensory awareness.
  • Air reminds us of our vision.
  • Spirit relates to our unseen yet experienced energy levels.


15. Courage and charisma

For a charismatic leader working within a corporate environment, the very nature of their character and personality gives rise to a plethora of situations in which they require courage and steely nerves to pursue what they believe to be right.

  • A charismatic leader not only requires personal courage but can also benefit from actively promoting an environment within which people are encouraged to be courageous and find it easier to adapt and accept changes.
  • Courageous leadership requires people to see what others don’t want to see, and do what others don’t want to do.
  • Courageous leaders stand up for themselves, admit their mistakes, take risks, lead by example and do what they believe in.


16. Charismatic leadership

Charismatic leaders affect both their followers and the organisational culture.

  • They are capable of altering workforce attitudes, beliefs and motivation, making changes that are not easily implemented through conventional leadership approaches alone.
  • They have a tendency to attract followers who are the crème de la crème of talent.
  • They provide an increased sensation of empowerment and self-esteem within the workforce, by expressing high expectations and high confidence in their people, both in individuals and in teams or departments of people.
  • They increase the value and benefits that people will achieve when the organisation has achieved its goal.
  • They raise the degree of commitment felt by the workforce and ensure that individuals within the group are aware of their unique and vital contribution.


17. Needs that power charisma

Dr Clare W Graves, a student of Maslow, provided a fascinating perspective to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model that is now is widely used by international speaker, Tony Robbins. Charismatic people possess a huge craving to satisfy the following needs:

  • The need for spontaneity, adventure, variety and surprise
  • The need to feel special and unique and to act from that belief
  • The need to feel loved and accepted and to connect with others
  • The need to continually grow, improve and develop
  • The need to make a difference to the world within which they operate


18. The charismatic mindset

Charismatic people possess a mindset of empowering beliefs that build and develop their personal magnetism. They believe that:

  • Accepting complete responsibility for the circumstances you are creating right now improves your ability to influence and transform your life, as well as the lives of others
  • Your current reality is a result of the thoughts you have been thinking
  • How you perceive the world around you will be projected and magnified in every aspect of your life


19. Handling charismatic people

Whether you work for a charismatic boss, manage a charismatic individual or have a charismatic client, there are a number of suggested approaches that can optimise the quality of your communication.

  • Actively listen and seek to really understand their viewpoint before giving your response.
  • Be yourself and say what you really think and believe.
  • When presenting your ideas to them, illustrate how your ideas support their personal vision.
  • Rather than explain why something won’t work, highlight different options that may work even better.