I am an introvert, can introverts learn how to be charismatic?

Can I build charisma, and if so, how?

I am a technical expert, do I really need to worry about charisma?


The short answer – yes, to all!

In my experience as a coach specialising in working with global development professionals, beliefs about charisma tend to fall into two main camps. The first, clients who believe that charisma is innate, you are born with it, which then brings a certain set of (limiting) beliefs and assumptions. The second, those who believe that given their role as a technical or programmatic expert, that they somehow don’t need to be bothered about charisma, which also raises some interesting limiting beliefs for us to explore.

Charisma has always been an important ingredient in personal and leadership effectiveness and is arguably even more so, in the twenty first century. In the my first post on charisma, ‘Exploring Charisma – 5 Myths to note when boosting your charisma’, I mentioned the pros and cons of charismatic leaders – and the bad press that charisma has received. But undeniably, having charisma is beneficial to leaders: personally and professionally, and is critical in efforts to affect change.


On Charisma

Although some people are naturally charismatic, the good news is that charisma is a skillset that can be learned. In Why You Need Charisma (Harvard Business Review), Rosabeth Moss Kanter says, “Our research with managers in the laboratory and in the field indicates that anyone trained in what we call “charismatic leadership tactics” (CLTs) can become more influential, trustworthy, and “leaderlike” in the eyes of others.”

In Charisma And How To Grow It, Jay Conger says, of charismatic leaders, “They seem to be the ones who are always on the lookout for opportunities and who often break the traditional rules of their industry to gain that competitive edge. By nature, they are entrepreneurial and agents of change.”

So, part of it is a mindset. One that’s set to transformational thinking, a degree of risk-taking and positive attitudes towards new ideas and action to achieve goals or improve performance.

But charisma doesn’t work in a vacuum – it needs other people. “Charismatic managers are masters of motivation and superb communicators,” Conger goes on to say. Charisma involves an interrelationship between the leader and their followers / staff / colleagues / clients. Charisma is usually in the eye of the beholder. And more importantly, in their hearts and minds.


5 Tips for Building Charisma

  1. Demonstrate an other-focus

There’s no doubt that people respond positively to friendly, likeable people. Kanter says, “there are ingredients that can be cultivated: A genuine interest in people. Listening to their needs and concerns, and showing that you will help them achieve their goals. Treating people as though each is special and deserves attention. Remembering details about them”.

If it doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s worth making the effort to practise these social skills.


2. Develop your oratory prowess

You don’t have to be a natural orator to inspire people through your words or presentation. You can learn from others and acquire the skills.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter outlines the importance of verbal and nonverbal techniques as key “charismatic leadership tactics” (CLTs). They are, in brief, as follows:

“In our research, we have identified a dozen key CLTs. Some of them you may recognize as long-standing techniques of oratory. Nine of them are verbal: metaphors, similes, and analogies; stories and anecdotes; contrasts; rhetorical questions; three-part lists; expressions of moral conviction; reflections of the group’s sentiments; the setting of high goals; and conveying confidence that they can be achieved. Three tactics are nonverbal: animated voice, facial expressions, and gestures.”

Practise these in one-to-one conversations and small team meetings – you don’t have to restrict your oratory to conference speeches or huge audiences.

Kanter says, “The tactics work because they help you create an emotional connection with followers, even as they make you appear more powerful, competent, and worthy of respect.”


3. Present a vision

In Charisma And How To Grow It – Jay Conger states, “Charisma also features in how leaders communicate their goals. They highlight what’s wrong with the present and how the future vision is the most attractive and attainable alternative, despite the obstacles”.

Part of this is expressing their vision and goals with passion – inspiring others to buy into it. Another part is clarity in making that vision a reality.

Conger says, “Once charismatic leaders see an opportunity, they are very skilful at crafting a compelling business proposition or strategic vision around it.”

E.g. in the 1980s, Jack Welch had a vision of making General Electric’s companies number one in their sectors – and achieved it within 10 years. Think, too, of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Elon Musk.


4. Show integrity and build trust

Be honest, open, and walk your talk. Stand by your word and fulfil your promises. Do what you say you’ll do. However, this doesn’t mean being stubborn or closed-minded if you realise you’re wrong. It’s good to listen to reason, if someone presents a good case or better idea. Just be clear of the rationale for changing your mind, and don’t do it publicly too often. It’s good to be flexible, but if you spin like a weather vane, you will lose people’s trust.

“While setting out their goals, charismatic leaders communicate their own motivation with high energy, persistence, unconventional behaviour, heroic deeds – even personal sacrifice. This part of the equation is crucial because people will follow someone only if they feel there is a foundation of trust. For example, they might give up important perks or privileges, or take risks that include the possible loss of their own money.” (Charisma And How To Grow It – Jay Conger)


5. Be humble – and outward-focussed

 This may seem counter-intuitive to some people who associate charisma with narcissism, arrogance and egotism. In my experience, more men want to develop charisma than women – perhaps because they see it as powerful, although having charisma appeals to both genders. But you can still be charismatic without negativity.

For Margarita Mayo, award-winning researcher and professor of leadership and organizational behavior, “The research is clear: when we choose humble, unassuming people as our leaders, the world around us becomes a better place.”

Leading by example, an unassuming character can still be charismatic – to the wider benefit of the organisation and society. Mayo adds: “Humble leaders improve the performance of a company in the long run because they create more collaborative environments. They have a balanced view of themselves – both their virtues and shortcomings – and a strong appreciation of others’ strengths and contributions, while being open to new ideas and feedback. These “unsung heroes” help their believers to build their self-esteem, go beyond their expectations, and create a community that channels individual efforts into an organized group that works for the good of the collective.”

Mayo quotes the distinction between personalized and socialised charisma. The personalised charismatic leader displays high authoritarianism and narcissism. The socialised charismatic leader has “a genuine interest in the collective welfare”.

“Socialized relationships… are established by followers with a clear set of values who view the charismatic leader as a means to achieve collective action.”


Getting the charisma mix right…

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Charisma is difficult to define, but it is a combination of qualities and skills that can be learned and practised.

Kanter says that managers often don’t bother with charismatic leadership, and find it easier to use “transactional (carrot-and-stick) or instrumental (task-based) leadership… But the most effective leaders layer charismatic leadership on top of transactional and instrumental leadership to achieve their goals.”

She goes on to state that: “Charisma is rooted in values and feelings. It’s influence born of the alchemy that Aristotle called the logos, the ethos, and the pathos; that is, to persuade others, you must use powerful and reasoned rhetoric, establish personal and moral credibility, and then rouse followers’ emotions and passions.”

Far from being an egocentric attribute, charisma is all about other people. Used for positive intent and the greater good – it not only connects you to others, but also connects you with your higher purpose.


How does your charisma advance your personal and/or professional goals? What have you done lately to build your charisma?

If you would like to explore and build charisma or feel that you could benefit from coaching, please get in touch.

Also, please download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

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Email me: palena@unabridgedleadership.com

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