The Craft of Charisma
Some tips on how to become more charismatic. From an article in Canadian Business:
Turns out that sparkle of persuasiveness and charm can be learned. Here’s how.
Jan 19, 2012 | Joe Castaldo | Canadian Business
Charisma is generally thought of as a dichotomy: either you have it or you don’t. But it turns out this potent mix of charm and persuasiveness that inspires devotion and loyalty in others can, in fact, be learned. John Antonakis, a professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, teaches a leadership course and recently sought to put some academic rigour behind the charisma techniques on which he lectures. The result is a new study in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education.
Antonakis took a group of Swiss managers and asked their peers, subordinates and bosses to rate them based on how often they exhibited certain traits associated with charisma. He then gave one group five hours of charisma training (they also spent countless hours studying and practising on their own) while the other group received none. Three months later, the managers were evaluated again. Those who received training were rated significantly more charismatic than their peers.
Mastering the traits identified by Antonakis isn’t easy, but the results can be rewarding in any situation where influence is required, be it leading a team or pitching a prospective client. “This is charisma we’re talking about, one of the most powerful weapons in a leader’s arsenal,” he says.
This rhetorical device helps to simplify complex issues, and encourages the audience to visualize and retain your message. A 2005 study published in the Leadership Quarterly found that the density of metaphors packed into U.S. presidential speeches correlates strongly with ratings of charisma. Simple metaphors tend to resonate the most. For good examples, Antonakis recommends Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 speech in Washington.
It’s a given that we like people who are similar to us, and a quick way to establish a rapport with an audience is to express whatever emotions they’re feeling. If you’re leading a company in turmoil and employees are worried, you should put those fears into words. The same goes for a positive message. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde captured her audience’s sense of optimism when she delivered a speech at an event last year promoting women in leadership. “For the last 30 years, I’ve been operating in circles that are crowded with men,” she said, “so it’s extremely refreshing to be all together, women and men—but predominantly women.”
Charismatic leaders convey a clear sense of their ethics—what they think is right and wrong. Jack Welch, the former chief executive of GE, regularly made his personal beliefs known. In 2001, for example, he told shareholders: “Our visceral hatred of bureaucracy stems from the evil and harm it wreaks on the spirit of a company, any institution, and its people.” Possess a strong set of beliefs, and be able to justify them.
Issues that are framed in black-and-white terms are easier for us to process, and force us to pick a side. Leaders can employ this tactic by contrasting their strategy or goals with those of a competitor. Not only does this lend the leader the appearance of decisiveness, but it fosters team spirit by uniting employees against an outside enemy. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is fond of this tactic. In 2008, he boasted that Oracle’s database software ran twice as fast on servers made by Sun Microsystems, a company Oracle had recently purchased, than on IBM’s machines. He offered US$10 million to any organization that found otherwise. “IBM, you are more than welcome to enter,” he said at a tech conference. “If you’d like to take us on, make our day.”
Posing questions to the audience creates a sense of anticipation and involves listeners in the presentation. In effect, it becomes less of a speech and more of a dialogue. Steve Jobs asked three rhetorical questions in his much-quoted 2005 Stanford University commencement address, including this one: “I had just turned 30, and then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started?”
Three-part lists suggest completeness, and that the issue under discussion has been well thought out. Three seems to be the ideal number, as people have trouble remembering more than three items. During his 2008 election victory speech, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama used 29 three-part lists in 10 minutes. One example: “We know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime: two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”
GESTURES, EXPRESSIONS and TONE
The content of what you say alone is not enough to project charisma. You need to employ the right body language, facial expressions and intonation as well. Antonakis says the key is to ensure that all of these actions match the tenor of what you’re saying. If you’re striking a grave note, you should look the part. The participants in one of Antonakis’s charisma experiments were initially worried about coming across as fake when using these tactics. But these fears vanished after some practice, and the observers who later scored the participants’ charisma did not find them inauthentic. In his leadership class, Antonakis actually brings in a drama instructor to teach the executive MBA students how to express basic emotions.
Like metaphors, anecdotes are another way to quickly engage an audience. If you’re trying to win a new client, tell him an inspirational story of how you helped a client in the past. Stories have structure, characters and suspense, all of which help listeners absorb the essence of your message. The point is to bring to mind certain things that you want to make very salient,” Antonakis says. “By doing so, you influence people’s perceptions.”
SET HIGH STANDARDS
A host of academic literature suggests that setting easily achievable goals, or encouraging employees to simply do their best, is not an effective motivational strategy. Employees view high standards as a challenge, however, and feel a sense of pride at being able to rise to them.
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