In one of our recent communication skills programmes, the charisma debate came up.  Some people think that charisma is unchangeable – you either have it or you don’t.

Typically, when I ask participants to define charisma, they tend to get stuck with the idea that charisma is something that some people have been blessed with, whilst others are not as lucky. However, from my observations in working with various professionals, I have noticed that charisma isn’t a single specific trait that you’re either born with or without.  Instead, it is a set of skills that can be nurtured and developed. 

In training and coaching sessions, I often hear, “I want to have more charisma so that I can be more impactful with others”, or “I want to be a charismatic leader who influences and persuades others when speaking.” You know you are a charismatic leader when, in your interactions with others, you are able to skilfully combine charm, persuasion and motivation.

Charismatic leaders possess the ability of motivating and inspiring their teams toward a greater goal. They have this seemingly magical capability of using their powerful personality and exceptional communication skills to persuade others and keep them engaged. They do this by tapping into their team members’ emotions, creating a sense of trust, passion, and purpose greater than themselves.

Charismatic leadership differentiates from other leadership styles by focusing more on the interpersonal relationship and how the leader interacts with the people who they lead. Charismatic leadership is built on a foundation of strong communication skills, persuasiveness, as well as some charm to help get the best out of everyone.

But what exactly is charisma? Charisma has always been an intriguing and controversial topic. Some see it as unfair advantage, others are eager to learn about it, yet everyone is fascinated by it. Whether you are seeking to build a project, a movement or a company, charisma is critical. It makes people want to work with you, your team and your company.

Charisma has been turned into an applied science and extensive research shows that charisma is the result of specific nonverbal behaviours. In fact, charisma has been under the scrutiny of sociologists, psychologists and behavioural scientists. The subjects of this research have been presidents, military leaders as well as business executives from low-level managers to CEOs. Thanks to such research, we now recognise charisma as a set of behaviours.

Charismatic behaviour comprises three core elements: presence, power and warmth.  People pick on messages we often don’t even realise we’re sending through our body language. Presence is the core component of charisma upon which all else is built – it is that feeling of engagement, of being in the moment. If you’re not fully present in an interaction, there’s a good chance that your eyes will glaze over or that your facial reactions will be a split-second delayed. Although we may think that we may fake presence in our interactions with others, when we are not fully present, people will see it.On a subconscious level, people can read the messages that we send through our body language. Not only is the lack of presence visible, it can also be perceived as being inauthentic. 

Being present requires having a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening. With all the distractions that we have nowadays, few of us are ever fully present. Yet, precisely because it is so scarce, a few moments of full presence from time to time can make quite an impact. So the next time you’re in a conversation, seek to monitor if your mind is truly engaged or if it is wandering elsewhere. Aim to bring yourself back to the present moment as often as you can. When you’re totally present, it shows in your body language in a charismatic enhancing way. The ability to be fully present will make you more memorable.

The combination of power and warmth are also necessary conditions for charisma. They are two dimensions that we evaluate first and foremost in assessing other people.  Someone who is powerful but not warm can come across as arrogant. Someone who possesses warmth without power can be perceived as subservient. The idea of charisma often also brings along the idea of self-confidence.

There is no doubt that when seeking to be a charismatic leader, a strong set of communication skills is crucial. Even if charismatic leadership may not be within your innate set of traits, or perhaps not necessarily your preferred style, we can all agree that charisma can be a valuable asset in leadership and hence worth developing. If you have not already given this some thought, I urge you to dedicate some time to create and apply your own version of charisma, which will enable you to be more influential and inspiring.

Michelle Fenech Seguna is the Founder and Director of Speak to Move, offering professional training programmes which enable participants to communicate confidently and present powerfully in business and social situations.  Michelle is based in Malta, where she offers executive coaching and corporate group training.  To know more about Speak to Move services you can reach Michelle Fenech Seguna on [email protected]  or for more information.


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