Most people believe that charisma is something mystical or magical -- you are either born with it, or not. But our research suggests otherwise. What is charisma? Do you have it? Can you get it?
I was recently interviewed for an Israeli publication for a feature on charisma. Here is the interview and my responses.
1. How do you define charisma?
Charisma (what we actually refer to as "personal charisma" is the possession of highly-developed emotional and social communication skills. Charismatic individuals are brilliant and effective communicators who communicate emotions very well - particularly positive emotions.
2. I understand you have developed a measure for charisma. Is that a test that helps us understand if one is charismatic and to what extent? Is charisma measurable?
Yes, we have a measure of social and emotional communication skills. Possessing high levels of each of the components/ elements (see below) and having them in balance means that the individual has high personal charisma potential.
We have both a self-report measure, called the Social Skills Inventory, and we are developing a 360-measure that has others rate a target person's charisma. These are available/published by MindGarden (www.mindgarden.com)
3. What are the elements of personal charisma?
The 3 emotional skills are: Emotional Expressiveness - this is the ability to accurately and spontaneously convey emotional messages through nonverbal channels. It is expressiveness that is the most visible aspect of charisma. We say that charismatic people "light up the room" with their positive emotions/affect.
Emotional Sensitivity is ability to read and accurately "decode" others' emotions and read nonverbal cues (of attitudes, dominance, etc). This is where the charismatic person appears "in tune" and "empathetic" with others. Think of Bill Clinton's comment, "I feel your pain"
Emotional Control is both the ability to regulate and control your emotional communication/expressions, but also the ability to hide felt emotions, or mask them with a different emotion. Charismatic people are good emotional actors.
The 3 social components are:
Social Expressiveness - think of "Extraversion" and being able to "work a room" or speak spontaneously and fluidly on just about any topic. Charismatic people are verbally fluent and articulate.
Social Sensitivity is being able to read the characteristics and "demands" of the social situation in order to behave appropriately. Charismatic people are in tune, both with others' emotions (ES above), but also with the social climate.
Social Control is self-confidence in social situations that develops because the individual has sophisticated and well-developed role playing skills.
We find in our research that leaders, in particular, tend to be high on both Social Expressiveness and Social Control. We are calling that combination, "savoir-faire" which translates to "knowing how to be" in social situations.
4. Is charisma a trait that one can develop?
We think of charisma more as a set of skills, rather than traits. Take extraversion, for example, which is associated with charisma. But in a soon-to-be-published paper we will show that extraversion is mediated by savoir-faire. In other words, only extraverts who are socially skilled are good leaders. So, it's the skills that are closer to defining charisma than the traits.
5. Do we want our leaders - or even managers at work - to be charismatic? That is, does charisma contribute to society or - if managers are charismatic, does that make a business more profitable?
The way we define charisma it is a good set of skills, but like any skills, they can be used to positive or negative (good or evil) ends. That is why it is important to know more about the character of the charismatic person (especially leaders), and our recent research has focused on measuring character. Both are important.
6. What are the disadvantages of charisma (if there are any). for instance - some researchers claim that charisma creates a bit of an illusion and some even perceive it as fraud.
Yes, some people can come off as "shallow" and "salesman-like" - think of Clinton again who was labeled "Slick Willy." That is why character and authenticity are important for charismatic leaders. The best leaders have the whole package.
7. Is there an aspect of charisma that researchers have not been able to understand until now?
I think we have captured a lot of what people call charisma, but many scholars disagree (that's what happens in research), but few have really studied charisma in a serious way. When we first started studying charisma, we couldn't even use the term in print in journal articles because the editors would disagree (but they didn't really have any grounds for disagreement - simply that they didn't think that we had captured what they thought was charisma). We are having the same trouble with the use of the term "savoir-faire." The scholars that first coined the term "emotional intelligence" had and still are experiencing the same kind of doubting from the scientific community. Incidentally, charisma and emotional intelligence are closely related.
8. A more personal question: What led you to study charisma to begin with?
This was a case where we were studying people's abilities to communicate nonverbally and communicate emotions and we found that people with good emotional communication skills also had more friends, were more socially successful, they could infect others with their emotions (what's called emotional contagion), they were more likely to be leaders.....So, our results seemed to be consistent with the more popular notion of charisma.
I would argue that we are trying to scientifically study something that has been a social construction. People have their own ideas about who is charismatic and who is not, but our socially-skilled individuals are more likely to be labeled "charismatic" than are unskilled people.
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