TrendWaves #197: Charisma & Authenticity, the Real Story

Posted 19 Mar 2015
by Bonnie Nelson

TrendWaves - Leadership & organizational trends and insights for Business LeadersIssue #197 – This post is part of the TrendWaves blog series, an NBOGroup publication on Leadership & Organizational trends and insights for Business Leaders.

Charismatic leaders

Take a look at the widely known charismatic leaders… What is Charisma? Is it the “star quality” – that special magical appeal and impact one person has on others? What is it? Is it something charismatic people are just born with? Can charisma be developed?

No doubt it is a gift given to some and through hard work others can gain… to a degree. To what extent, however, depends on many factors. What’s interesting is that many managers, political advisors, agents in the entertainment industry, and the general population like to believe they can spot it when they see it. But research says…that isn’t true.  Almost every song, every book, every painting, every political leader and every star was rejected numerous times before they went on to success.

If and when the person becomes famous,  people note how charismatic he/she is. But were they always? Did a change occur or did our perception change? Was the individual always charismatic or just in hindsight now that he/she is famous?

Let's take a look at what is Charisma.

Charisma is frequently defined as: "the ability to inspire enthusiasm, interest, or affection in others by means of personal charm or influence."

Webster’s dictionary defines charisma as: "a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader). A special magnetic charm or appeal (the charisma of a popular actor)."

The Oxford dictionary defines charisma as: "Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others."

So how can we develop our Charisma?

First let’s look at how not to try and develop charisma. Too often we try to follow an academic model and apply it to a very non-academic quality. Trying to develop charisma through a formula of behaviors or manipulation is not the answer. 

An example of one academics advice on how to develop charisma has valid illustrations of what works and what does not work, but it's only part of the story:

  • General: Open body posture, hands away from face when talking, stance tall and balanced, hands apart and relaxed 
  • To an individual: Develop a genuine smile, nod when they talk, briefly touch them on the upper arm, and maintain eye contact
  • To a group: Be comfortable, smile, appear enthusiastic with gestures, inflection in the voice, lean slightly forward and make eye contact with individuals around the room.
  • Message: Move beyond status quo and make a difference, be controversial, new ideas, simple to understand, counter-intuitive
  • Speech: Be clear, fluent, forceful and articulate, evoke imagery, use an upbeat tempo, occasionally slow for tension or emphasis

To orchestrate these behaviors externally requires tremendous energy, practice and focus. However, when we internally feel warmth, care for someone and are enjoying having a conversation we will naturally demonstrate some of these qualities. We will smile. In fact we tend to smile a lot. It’s a natural and authentic response and others respond to that authenticity. The adage "a smile is the closest distance between two people" is universally true.

Authenticity in the workplace
Image credit: HubSpot

So can we become charismatic by smiling, using our voice or holding our hands the way a charismatic person does? The big question is…will that evolve into true charisma?

True-authentic charisma is energy that emits from the inside. It is an authentic comfort with oneself and a genuine interest in others. When we take an academic view and study the external behaviors of a charismatic person we miss the core essence of the source of charisma.

This external approach to charisma has been the traditional strategy and can have impact but ultimately falls short of real authentic charisma. Louise Hay, renowned author and lecturer on the impact of thoughts on the body (‘when we really love ourselves, everything in our life works’), charisma can be examined from an ‘inside-out’ perspective. This, rather than modeling the external characteristics of charismatic individuals, may be the key to developing your own charisma. 

The ultimate key to developing charisma is to start from the inside. The goal is to have a free "flow" of positive energy directed to others.

Let’s look at 3 ways to enhance Charisma and remain authentic to the natural gifts we have been given:

1. Take a genuine interest in other people

Charismatic people are interesting in part because they are interested in us. Listening is a vital part of showing interest in others and in being a good conversationalist. A positive focus on others with an attitude that exudes the spirit of optimism draws people to you. And it's not just how well you listen and what you say to others. “When you think mostly positive thoughts, it gives you a more self-assured, appealing quality. Who doesn't want to be around a person like that?” Notes Margaret Page, Vancouver-based Toastmaster. "I call it 'shining from the inside out”. Even if you won’t get to know your audience on a personal level, you have a genuine interest in providing them with a life-changing interaction – an emotional experience.

Try this: Strike up a conversation with someone – a stranger perhaps – and take a genuine interest. Be curious and try to learn as much as you can about that person. Go beyond being polite. Give sincere, positive & affirmative responses to what you are hearing. Afterwards, you will reflect on how good you felt, how unself-conscious you were. You will undoubtedly have come across as more charismatic (although this is not your reason for taking a genuine interest).

2. Speak from your heart

Charismatic people speak from their hearts. If you try to emulate any other charismatic individual, you effectively ‘act’, putting on a mask of charisma. You start modeling external characteristics that may not reflect your own personal characteristics. This immediately blocks the flow of your individual authenticity, and dilutes the emotional intensity of your communication.

Whatever external mask you choose to wear, if it doesn’t reflect the genuine, authentic ‘you’, this will create a feeling in others that ‘something just isn’t right about this person’. By connecting with the core elements that shape our character, we create the opportunity to develop a charismatic presence.

Try this: 

  • Ground yourself in good intentions, whatever they may be. For example, to discover and express the truth. To help the other person.
  • Get a basic sense of what you want to say. Focus on your experience: thoughts, feelings, body sensations, memories, images. 
  • Be confident. Have faith in your sincerity, and in the truth itself. 

3. Be willing to relinquish the need to “control”

Charismatic people are open, authentic and spontaneous rather than closed and controlling. They are also willing to let others be themselves. They don’t feel the need to control others but instead appreciate the uniqueness of others. Because they are optimistic they are willing to “let go” of controlling outcomes and enjoy expressing themselves in the spontaneity of the moment.

Try this: Give yourself permission to “let go” and allow yourself a spontaneous experience. A genuine smile is a spontaneous smile that comes from within. Talk without the need to sound good. Do things without needing to control the outcome.

Charisma (quote)

Charisma builds upon Authenticity.

Imprinted in each of us, at the deepest level, is the truth of the uniqueness and value of every human being. The ability to share that uniqueness, to help others, and give to the world creates your sphere of influence. This influence increases the more you give. When you interact with others, you do it for a reason. Ideally the reason is that you genuinely want to affect the individual, the audience with an interaction – an experience that makes them feel valued, feel better, see something positive and larger than themselves… this is being authentically charismatic.

The Bottom Line Findings: We are all unique! We need to know our unique talents and we need to develop skills and techniques that help us use those talents for a greater good. The more you reflect your unique self and show genuine interest and focus on others the more authentically charismatic you will become.

References for this article:
Louise Hay: Author and Motivational Speaker
Margaret Page: President Etiquette Page Enterprises
Per Bristow: Bristow Vocal Method

Top image credits:
Pope Francis – The Telegraph (AFP)
Aung San Suu Kyi – Livemint (AFP)
Lee Kuan Yew – Straits Times
Mother Teresa –
Steve Jobs – DeviliciousArt | Sketchoholic

Topics: Interpersonal Skills , Leadership , TrendWaves

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