Charisma: Do You Have That Elusive Magic?

Have you ever met someone who manages to inspire—not coerce—
you into doing something you would not normally do? You find
yourself giving in to the Chicken Dance, or getting up for a Karaoke
song…and you’re stone sober. This person feels downright magnetic
and you tend to forget yourself entirely. Later, when analysis of your
uncommon behavior kicks in, you decide, without question, that this
special person had charisma.

The dictionary defines charisma as “a rare personal quality attributed
to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm.”

Perhaps because charisma is “rare,” we all instantly recognize it. We
see it in someone who has exuberance, joie de vivre, magnetism,
charm, or “electricity.” However we describe it, charisma seems to
evoke deep devotion, reverence and even blind faith from followers.

If charisma is a “quality attributed to leaders,” it becomes necessary
to ask ourselves, then: Do I have it? And to what degree?

Research associates charismatic people with six descriptors: emo-
tionally expressive, enthusiastic, eloquent, visionary, self-confident
and responsive to others. Other characteristics include unusual
calmness, confidence, assertiveness, authenticity, focus—and almost
always, superb communication and/or oratorical skills.

How are you doing so far?

The Body Speaks

Charisma reaches us on a distinctly subliminal level. It can be meas-
ured through nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures and
body movements. For example, charismatic people smile naturally,
with wrinkling around the eyes and often touch friends during conver-
sations. Other research finds people who shift posture more often and
use more eyebrow raises appear more charismatic.

Other physical signals compel us, as well. Some researchers have
found that synchrony is connected to charisma. This is the ability
to align or match the mannerisms of the person to whom you’re
speaking. “Synchrony creates a positive, enjoyable experience,”
says Frank Bernieri, PhD, an Oregon State University psychology
professor. “When that kind of synchrony occurs with a single person,
you think they are charismatic.” He’s found that many speakers and
entertainers mesmerize listeners into synchrony in the timing of
their breaths, gestures and the rhythm of their speech, where they
“breathe and sway in tune with the speaker. It’s all about timing,
repetition and rhythmic cadence, raising amplitude at key points.
This is a craft, and you have to play the crowd like improvisational
jazz. The charismatic individual knows the gestures but also has the
innate ability to play any given audience.”

The Heart Has It

A great deal of research on charisma indicates the presence of strong
social and emotional intelligence. Leaders who are instantly
recognized as being charismatic immediately and deeply empathize
and connect with others, leaving their listeners feeling understood and
interested. When we experience this synergy with another person,
we tend to feel a magnetic pull to them. We’ve all known this with
lovers—he or she “gets us” as no one else ever has and suddenly
we’re drawn into a force field that feels much bigger than ourselves.
A charismatic leader naturally creates this same kind of electricity—
by genuinely caring and empathizing with whomever they’re speaking.

The Power of Words

“Charismatic people are essentially brilliant communicators,” says
Ronald Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology
at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Dean Keith Simonton, author of the book “Why Presidents Succeed”
argues that America’s successful presidents used language rich in
meaning to shape charismatic personas. “Words with basic emotions,
sensations or visions, such as love, hate, greedy or evil, have a rich-
ness that connects with an audience,” says Simonton. “People don’t
have rich associations with abstract words. ‘I feel your pain’ has asso-
ciation, but ‘I can relate to your viewpoint’ doesn’t.” Abstract words
register on the intellectual plane, and must be translated into images.
Image-based words need no translation. “The most charismatic presidents
reached an emotional connection with people talking not to their brains
but to their gut

For instance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Abraham
Lincoln used twice as many metaphors in their inaugural addresses as
did their less riveting counterparts.

In addition to words themselves, Cynthia Emrich, professor of manage-
ment at the College of William and Mary believes that leaders must
stand for something. “If the leader is attractive, but you don’t have any
clue where he or she stands, you can’t identify with him.” In other words,
he or she must have vision.

Indeed, out of eight theories of charismatic, visionary, and transforma-
tional leadership, eleven behavioral dimensions were noted. But only
one–visionary behavior–was represented in all eight theories. Visionary
behavior involves the articulation of “an ideological goal…that emphasizes
fundamental values such as beauty, order, honesty, dignity, and human
rights.” It has been found that charismatic leaders inspire extraordinary
commitment and devotion by including many references to history and
tradition; to their own identification with followers, as well as to shared
values and moral justifications
.” This visionary leader stands for
something and inspires others to stand alongside him.

Your Own Charisma Factor

When you read about the qualities of charisma, how do you feel you
rate? Do you think, “Yeah, I’ve got it most of the time,” or do you
lament, “I’m not even close!”?

Muscles of charisma can be flexed. The first step is being willing to go
out of your comfort zones. If you’re on the lower-end of the scale, I’m
ready to bet that you are reserved and shy. Fear is acting on you:
fear of what others will think of you if your “break free”; fear of what
will be done to you; fear that somehow you’ll lose your identity. So,
question one: are you willing to stretch yourself out of your comfort
zones…to be the kind of leader people that can inspire others to do the
Chicken Dance? All kidding aside…do you want to be someone others
find so compelling that they actually make positive change? Because
that’s ultimately what a charismatic person does: inspires others to
change for the better.

Assess yourself daily on the qualities of charisma and find ways to
strengthen the muscle. Soon, you won’t just have loyal followers—
you’ll have groupies!

We’re down to the wire on registration for my powerful 2-day public
speaking training. We devote an entire evening to exploding your
charisma factor! It’s in less than 2 weeks. You can read about it here.

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