[First posted on Leaderonomics.com on 24 June 2013]
[Updated: 26 March 2015]
Imagine this situation: you have just arrived at a networking dinner. You find yourself surrounded by mostly unfamiliar faces. You’re here on a mission: to make new contacts in the interest of your personal and professional gains. Like your life depends on it.
It is an event packed with industry titans, important figures that you would consider yourself lucky to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with. You have prepared a stack of business cards to exchange. The occasion, after all, may provide a significant turning point in your career (if not now, perhaps later on).
This is your chance to make an impression and be remembered by total strangers. For some people, this situation is right in their home ground. They feel comfortable, absorbing in the moment to shine and are able to just charm the audience.
Think of any charismatic figure – you’ll most likely be convinced that the person’s presence can liven up any room. There is some sort of magnetism to this persona that can captivate others, men and women. Think James Bond.
But let’s be honest. Not everyone can be Agent 007. Luckily, research has shown that you don’t necessarily need a particular sort of physique or even appearance to exude charisma.
Fortunately, in the book titled The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, Cabane explains that charismatic behaviour can actually be nurtured. Charisma, as it turns out, takes in three forms:
Going back to our networking dinner scenario, being Present is important to make yourself memorable to others. That means actually listening to others, and this has to be channelled internally so that it is authentic. You will also feel more at peace when you are focusing on your current environment.
And when you are relaxed, your body language (Power) will show it, eliminating any internal discomfort, allowing you to concentrate on and really engage (Warmth) with others. The fact of the matter is, people like to be listened to. It shows that you respect and value them.
Speaking of discomfort, it is normal to experience moments of negativity – anxiety, self-criticism, self-doubt. The truth is, even professionals go through it.
What is important is to de-stigmatise the discomfort and create a positive mental state. Removing or minimising the obstacles to Presence, Power, and Warmth is critical to projecting your inner charisma.
According to Cabane, there are three steps to overcoming physical and mental uneasiness:
Acknowledge and realise that the same experience can and has happened to others. This nervous feeling is a common occurrence that we all experience as imperfect human beings. It is perfectly normal and is nothing to be ashamed of.
Now that you’ve come to grips with the self-inflicted negativity, step two is to neutralise it. Really ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen?
Take away that magnifying glass focusing on your weaknesses and recognise that you will probably survive and re-bounce. Notice that the emphasis is on neutralising the situation, not suppressing it.
- Rewrite reality
The third and final step is to rewrite your reality. Now imagine you are in a traffic queue at a busy junction, and someone cuts you off as the light turns red. How dare that person!
Expletives aside, your response would neutralise if you knew that the driver was rushing for a medical emergency. This is not to undermine your plight, but simply to attune you to positivity. Harbouring negativity can be a real drag to your personality.
Of course, this three-step approach will require practice. Like all professional athletes, they do a lot of warm-ups to prepare their body and soul for the task ahead. Apply the same concept to gradually build up and enhance your personality.
Different charisma styles
It goes without saying that charisma styles can be different. A person’s charisma style can vary according to personality, goals and the situation. In the book, Cabane outlines the four major types of charisma along with its underlying indicators:
- Authority charisma – Power to influence others
If you are fortunate enough to have engaged the services of big brand consultants, you would have seen it all: well-polished mannerisms (body language), bespoke suits and admirable titles.
They have one clear aim: to project status and confidence. As they should be – their handsomely paid professional services are in high demand. Any less of a stature might reduce their credibility to deliver outstanding results.
People with authority charisma project status, stature and have a high ability to influence others.
- Focus charisma – Highly focused and fully present
People with focus charisma are always listening to your dilemmas attentively, guiding you through the rough patches, patiently imparting golden wisdoms.
Remember when you were growing up and your parents were always there for you? Or a mentor who has helped you through your career challenges?
You can’t help but feel grateful for people with this style of charisma. They make you feel heard and understood. Are you looking to solve a difficult situation? Take a minute, listen to others, and understand their challenges. Your genuine warmth towards others will be a major likeability factor.
- Visionary charisma – Formidable belief system
American president Barack Obama recorded major milestones during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns for rallying a nation under simple notions carried under the slogans “Yes we can!” and “Forward!”.
Amidst global financial turmoil, Americans rallied behind Obama, carrying the hope of fixing their troubled economy.
A person with visionary charisma demonstrates passion with conviction, and exerts a magnetic influence on others.
- Kindness charisma – Unconditional warmth
People with kindness charisma are big-hearted. You might spot some in your workplace: they are respectful, always smiling, and often voluntarily offering help to others.
People with this style of charisma are noticed for their approachability. They are likeable. However, individuals with this charisma style must balance it so that they don’t come off as too eager to please everyone.
Consider adopting this charisma style to foster good working relationships with people around you. Being charismatic of course, does not mean that you will never have to deal with difficult situations. While it cannot be avoided, charisma can definitely help.
The four different styles above can be applied as appropriate to the different situations you find yourself in. Project status, express appreciation, share vision, and show warmth and compassion.
In an office environment, it’s equally important to exercise this in person and also in communication channels (on the phone or via e-mail).
Cabane’s The Charisma Myth is a great guide to developing charisma, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested to boost their interpersonal skills. Go ahead and give it a go. Charisma can be a powerful tool in your career to increase your sphere of influence and leave a lasting impression on others.
The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, is published by Penguin US. It is available at all leading bookstores in Malaysia. Imran Hashim is a self-confessed introvert, and he considers Cabane’s book especially useful for learning how to create a lasting first impression at first-time meetings. To find out more about the people behind Leaderonomics, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 22 June 2013