Charisma: A career booster

One can never be too rich, too fit, too happy or too charismatic. You don’t hear much about charisma in business schools nor in business magazines. To most people, it’s the elusive X factor–a mystical, almost magical career booster.


For a good reason, charisma can not only make you a star at your workplace, networking events, parties but a study also shows that it can help get you hired — and even nab you a higher salary offer.


Researchers at MIT say that they can project how much an interview candidate will be offered during salary negotiations — based solely on their measured charisma.  


Charisma originally comes from a Greek word ‘Khárisma’, which means ‘a divinely conferred talent’. Synonyms for charisma are alluring, bewitching, captivating, fascinating, charming, enchanting, engaging, magnetic and seductive. Later Max Weber, the father of sociology, coined the term “charisma” to describe inspirational leaders. No matter how we define it, we always know it when we see it – whether it’s social, political or corporate.


As a Charisma Coach, I define charisma as “an ability to trigger strong positive emotions in people, which in turn enable you to better connect, inspire and lead.”  


Undoubtedly, charisma is a crucial ingredient of success in today’s highly competitive business world. Without charisma, it’s hard to influence others, difficult to clinch sales and almost impossible to get to the top. The emerging leaders and rising entrepreneurs, on whom investors place their bets, have one thing in common besides a promising idea: a lot of charisma.


Rakesh Khurana, a professor of leadership development at Harvard Charisma says, “Charisma is the quality that American companies most often seek in a CEO.”


Until a couple of years ago, it was widely believed that Charisma is an innate ability, either you are born with it or you are not. Fortunately, recent scientific researches have demonstrated that Charisma is actually a set of behaviors that can be learned, practiced and mastered. In a controlled laboratory experiment, researchers were able to raise or lower an individual’s level of charisma as if they were turning a dial.


Most charismatic leaders that we know today learned to adopt these skills through trial and error with time. Let us take the example of Steve Jobs, who is remembered as one of the most charismatic CEOs of the last decade. Steve came across as awkward and not so charismatic in his earliest presentations. You can watch those early presentations on YouTube. Steve painstakingly worked to increase his level of charisma over the years, and you can see the gradual improvement in his public appearances.


I strongly believe that everybody can learn to be charismatic. The chances are that many of you reading this piece right now are already pretty charismatic. However, there is always scope to turn it up a notch. Charisma is subjective and hence there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. There are multiple charisma styles relevant to various situations. You can choose to focus and lead with one or incorporate many in your persona.


Extraordinarily charismatic people are good at calibrating and optimizing their charisma with respect to their social settings and circumstances. They master the art of projecting optimum charisma while seamlessly switching between various charisma styles, depending upon the situation at hand. In one social scenario, they may choose to lead with authoritative charisma – in another with empathy charisma and in yet another enthrall people with streaks of their visionary charisma. Think Barack Obama.


According to Richard Wiseman, professor of the public understanding of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, in England, “Every charismatic leader shares 3 qualities: He or she feels emotions very strongly, trigger them in others and is impervious to the influence of other charismatic people.”


Learning to be charismatic is no different from learning to swim or to drive a car. It may feel contrived in the beginning while you practice and try to master various verbal and non-verbal charismatic behaviors, but once you get the hang of it, they start to feel effortless and natural. In fact, within a few weeks of practice, they become a part of your muscle memory and your innate persona.


I still remember the day of my first driving lesson. I was really stressed and petrified. I had to consciously look down at the manual gearbox every time I changed a gear. I clung to the steering wheel with both hands. I was scared to loose control every time I had to let go off with one hand to switch on the indicator lights. Taking my eyes off the road even for a quick glance in the rear view mirror felt like a herculean task. Yet, just a few months later, I could drive my car with a coffee cup in one hand and a phone in another. No, I don’t use my phone while driving anymore. Bad habit! But you get the point.


There are two major approaches to achieve your optimum CQ (Charisma Quotient):


1.) Outside-In  and  2.) Inside-Out


The Outside-In approach is easier, gets faster results and works pretty well for most people and most social scenarios. The Outside-In approach focuses on enhancing your outward personality traits like your business avatar, body language, energy level, voice pitch, tonality, verbal message and authenticity, which in turn helps project a charismatic aura. Since our body has the power to influence our mind, we start to feel genuinely more charismatic from within… which in turn, further enhances our mood and triggers a congruent body language. It basically puts us on a good physical and emotional cycle.


However, if you want to be extraordinarily charismatic in almost any social situation, no matter how challenging it may be, no matter who you meet, then I recommend going with the Inside-Out approach. The Inside-Out approach requires you to go through a series of thoughtfully designed social exercises that challenges your inner confidence, pushes you beyond your limiting beliefs and literally allows you to re-write your inner reality. It enables you to calibrate your charisma in almost any social situation and opens new doors of possibilities that you earlier thought humanely impossible. It causes a big spike in your inner charisma level, which starts to effortlessly reflect in your personality and interactions. The Inside-Out approach requires more commitment and discipline, but the results are worth it in the end.


Remember, just like any other life skill, there is always scope to learn more, practice more, until you master the art of being truly charismatic. For some, it means a few years of commitment and for some it turns out be a life long quest.


Here are some quick tips to enhance your ‘outward’ charisma:


Body language: Stand tall, chin slightly up, feet comfortably apart. Walk with steady, determined strides. Eliminate fidgeting and jerky head movements. Make fluid hand gestures while making a point, avoid choppy hand gestures. Uncross your legs or arms. Smile genuinely. While on stage or presenting, avoid standing behind a table or a dais. Don’t hesitate to walk around a bit while presenting. Avoid putting both or one hand in your pockets. Avoid excessive nodding.


Speak expressively: If two speakers utter exactly the same words, but one speaks a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume, that speaker will be judged to be more energetic, knowledgeable, and intelligent. Speaking with modulation in pitch and volume, and strategically placed pauses, boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence. Reduce fluff like ‘hmm’, ‘and’, ‘you know what I mean’ and unnecessary pauses.


Eye Contact: Making very little eye contact can either convey shyness and submissiveness, or superiority and a lack of interest. If you keep your eyes averted (as is common if you are nervous) then you will look less like you want to be where you are, and appear less approachable. Don’t stare but maintain a soft eye-contact, referred as ‘gaze’. It makes you appear confident, interested, secure, and at ease.


-  Dressing: Don’t just be groomed, be well-groomed. Try power dressing, relevant to your industry and organization. It’s ok to stand out from the crowd by choosing a unique dressing style, without going overboard. Don’t be afraid to experiment with watch, ties, specs, which enhances your personality. What you wear is a crucial part of your outer charisma. A 2012 Northwestern study found that people wearing white lab coats — as scientists and doctors are known to do — score higher on tests requiring lots of concentration. This signals that the clothes we wear have power not only over others, but also over ourselves.


About Danish Sheikh

As India’s first charisma coach, Danish Sheikh helps people optimize their Charisma Quotient and interpersonal skills. His clients include leading CEOs, Entrepreneurs, Politicians and Bollywood celebrities of the region.

Danish is also the first academic faculty of charisma in India and has delivered guest lectures at leading business schools. He has also spoken at TEDx.

Previously, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo! and The Nielsen Company at various managerial levels.


Twitter: @CharismaIndia




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