Why Charisma Matters

The potential to be a charismatic leader is within you. And...the payoff for doing so has never been higher. Tony Alessandra outlines seven points to more charismatic speaking.

What do people have that can inspire you and draw you to them, that can cause you perform beyond expectations to accomplish their goals? Is it speaking well...or being socially adroit...or projecting an attractive, exciting image?

Actually, it's all that--and more. And for lack of a better term, we often group such qualities under the term charisma. I've been studying, teaching, and writing about human behavior, especially in business, for more than 20 years now. As a result, probably like you, I know charisma when I see it...even if it's sometimes hard to pinpoint. But here's my definition: Charisma is the ability to positively influence others by connecting with them physically, emotionally, and intellectually. In brief, it's what makes people like you and enjoy being around you...even when they don't know much about you. This personal magnetism can exist at the level of mass movements--such as politicians and evangelists--or in the small-scale encounters of everyday life, such as the shop owner who makes you feel so comfortable and valuable that you cheerfully drive a few extra miles to her store.

I'm convinced that, contrary to popular wisdom, charisma is not something you're born with, like having blue eyes or brown eyes. Instead, I think our personalities consist, let's say, of a series of containers, like cups or glasses. Some are nearly empty, some brimming, yet others are partially filled to varying degrees. Together, they constitute our potential charisma. If all the glasses were filled to the top, you'd be so charismatic people would think you were a god...and you'd probably think so, too. But nobody has a complete set of totally full glasses, although some really gifted people--JFK or, say, Churchill--may have come close to this ideal. But, for most of us, the glasses are filled a bit erratically, though we can add to them.

Here, as I see them, are the seven main components of charisma--or, the "glasses," if you will:

  • Your silent message...You unconsciously send out signals to others. Maybe you look them right in the eye, or maybe you stare at your shoes when you talk. Perhaps you slump your shoulders, or maybe you square them confidently. You may fail to smile naturally or shake hands firmly, or you might dress in a way that's not you. All these shape your image.
  • Your persuasive talent...How skillful are you at motivating others to follow your lead? No idea, however great, ever gets anywhere until it's adopted.
  • Your ability to speak well...Likewise, you may have a terrific idea, but who will know if you can't articulate it?
  • Your listening skill...Rarely taught and infrequently practiced, listening is nonetheless a key to communicating and making others feel special in your presence.
  • Your use of space and time...Again, though it's often overlooked, use of spatial and temporal territories can make or break relationships.
  • Your ability to adapt to others...Building rapport means understanding other people's personalities, then adapting your own behavior to increase compatibility.
  • Your vision, your ideas...Regardless of how strong and persuasive a speaker you are, how adept you are at connecting with others, how well you listen, use your space or time, or send out silent signals, you've still got to have something to say...or you'll just be an empty suit.

    So, it's not a single ingredient that makes a person charismatic, and, more important, charisma isn't based on I.Q., genetics, social position, wealth, or luck. Instead, it can be learned. A person who develops his or her charisma is likely to do well in all aspects of life. That's because, on several different levels, they better connect with people. By definition, the charismatic person is more other-directed, more empathic. That gives them more personal power--and that's a big plus for anybody.

    The potential to be a charismatic leader is within you, too. And...the payoff for doing so has never been higher.

    Adapted from Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism that Leads to Success, by Tony Alessandra, PhD, from Warner Books (February 1998), ISBN: 0-446-52049-7, $24. Dr. Alessandra, recognized as "one of America's Most Electrifying Speakers" by Meetings & Conventions Magazine, is the author of 13 books. For more information about all his books, audio and video programs visit www.alessandra.com/resources.html or to take his management style test visit www.platinumrule.com or call (619) 459-0197.

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