We all know the type. That girl with the glint in her eye. The boss everyone respects. The guy who just seems to draw everybody in. Some call it the ‘X factor’, others ‘magnetism’, but for today, I’m going to stick with the term good old charisma.
Have you ever wondered what it is that makes these people stand out from the crowd? What is it about them that so inspires the trust, confidence and esteem of their peers?
Taken from the Greek word meaning ‘favour’ or ‘grace’, the Oxford dictionary defines charisma as: “Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.”
We all know someone who has that magnetic personality; the only question is, what is the magic ingredient that they so intuitively possess?
Gift or innate?
For centuries, people have debated whether personal charisma is something you’re born with or whether it’s a learned art.
While Professor Ronald E Riggio Ph.D, who has studied charisma for the past 30 years, argues that people with charisma can be both born and made. Speaking in Psychology Today, he comments: “Charisma is not something magical or mysterious. It is deeply rooted in our ability to communicate emotionally (related to the notion of ‘emotional intelligence’) and the relationship skills that allow charismatic individuals to make deep connections with others. Oratorical skills, being positive and optimistic, and being emotionally expressive are also part of the building blocks of charisma.”
Star quality: Presence, power, warmth
When talking about personal charisma, it’s hard not to think of the great leaders, politicians and celebrities of our time that possess this same ineffable quality.
Known to be one of the most charismatic leaders of modern times, Bill Clinton has been widely described as a person of exceptional charisma. One first-person account recounts how: “Clinton made eye contact with my friend in a way so powerful and intimate, my friend felt as though the two of them were the only people in the room.”
While business leader Sheryl Sandberg has been described as someone who “holds her own in a male dominated geeky world and is still feminine. She knows herself and isn’t trying to be someone else”
According to Riggio, we all have the ability to improve our interpersonal skills and boost our charisma.
You may well have heard the phrase ‘switches on the charm’, which is all about people who have learnt the art of putting on an alluring veneer, such as politicians, company executives, actors and so forth.
As such, it’s a valuable skill that can help in business and in life in general. So much so, in fact, that there are even dedicated charisma coaches whose whole business is to help people relate with others. One of these, Richard Reid who has helped executives at Ernst & Young, Scope and Cap Gemini, hosts charisma workshops and one-on-one meetings to help you “switch on your charisma when needed.”
In business, it is a useful tool to be able to inspire, persuade and lead a team. And it can really drive results and instil faith in an organisation – just look at what Steve Jobs did with Apple.
The science bit
If it’s true that personal charisma can be learnt, what, then, are the main ingredients that make up this mysterious quality?
Writing for Psychology Today, Riggio believes there are six intrinsic qualities:
- Emotional Expressiveness: The ability to express feelings spontaneously and without holding back, with real emotion. Princess Diana is a great example of someone who could connect to others and light up a room.
- Emotional Sensitivity: The ability to empathise and connect with other people’s emotions. Referring back to Bill Clinton’s ability to make you feel like you’re the only one in the room.
- Emotional Control: A person’s ability to have control over their emotions, and ‘turn on the charm’ when it’s needed.
- Social Expressiveness: Being a great public speaker and an entertaining conversationalist. Think of some of the great orators of our time, such as Barack Obama.
- Social Sensitivity: Someone with sensitivity towards others, particularly in social situations. An art many of the Royals have acquired over the years, though not Prince Philip it must be said.
- Social Control: Remaining in control in social situations with grace and poise, allowing them to fit in to any given situation. The classic politician or diplomat.
Long story short, it really pays to relate well to people – and to be thinking all the time how you can do it better. If you’ve been inspired to learn more, I suggest you check out John Antonakis’s TED talk on why charisma matters, which you can find here.
Cambridge graduate. Writer and thinker. Life enthusiast.