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Surprise: Charisma Is a Skill, Not a Gift

Here's how you can develop the charisma to lead any group.

Key points

  • Charismatic people have confidence that comes from solid knowledge in their area of expertise, which allows them to speak authoritatively.
  • Charismatics are welcoming people-persons who can find commonality with others and share the emotions and values of those around them.
  • Narcissism and extraversion cannot create genuine charisma.
Kampus Productions/Pexels
Charismatic leaders are able to inspire people because they have empathy.
Source: Kampus Productions/Pexels

My mother was charismatic, but she wasn’t always so. It was something she developed over decades. As a young adult, she was fairly insecure and would say things like, “I grew up on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.” Perhaps it was that background that motivated her, but she was determined to improve her lot in life.

My mother was also quite religious. When my father was dying of kidney failure, she prayed for a miracle. I previously wrote that because of her habit of reading, she came across an article about the physicians in Boston who were performing the world’s first organ transplants on kidneys. After reading the article, she contacted those doctors, who accepted my father into their program and saved his life. My mother interpreted her finding that article as an answer to prayer, which led her to become more spiritual than religious.

Over time, she became involved with a national spiritual study group and rose to the top leadership position. As the president of this organization, her charisma fully blossomed. By making speeches and guest appearances on radio shows around the country, she grew the membership substantially. She had a host of followers, and I got to witness my mother’s best self. It was an exciting time for my family.

Charisma comes from the Greek word for grace or charm. Here’s a definition from the Free Dictionary:

  1. a special quality conferring extraordinary powers of leadership and the ability to inspire veneration.
  2. a personal magnetism that enables an individual to attract or influence people.

I would never call myself charismatic, but learned several techniques from my mother that I was able to use in leading many organizations myself. Here is what I learned:

Communication Skills Are Key

Charisma is all about having exceptional communication skills. This does not mean you have to be a brilliant orator; many charismatic people do their best communicating and influencing one-on-one.

Good communicators are able to share the same opinions and beliefs as their audience, which endears them to those listening. They are adept at recognizing and acknowledging the desires and goals of the group. This is what makes them trusted leaders. And, they exude their enthusiasm, which can be infectious. On the other hand, if you do not share the same opinions and beliefs as a leader who is attempting to persuade you, they will not seem charismatic but will sound like a raving lunatic instead (several politicians come to mind).

High in EQ

Charismatics are welcoming people-persons who can find commonality with just about anyone. They are outstanding at sharing the emotions and values of the people around them. This is primarily what makes them so popular.

They do this so well because they are attentive listeners who have empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ); they hear what people say and respond in a manner that lets the person talking know they have been heard. They do this by repeating what was said and asking relevant questions that get people to open up and talk more about their interests or issues. And, as clever storytellers, they can touch people’s inner feelings with just the right tale.

Humorous, Optimistic, and Bold

People with charisma tend to be quick-witted and can rapidly assess a situation enabling them to identify connections such as creative solutions, and sometimes humor (charismatics are often funny and spontaneously so).

Charismatic people maintain a positive mental attitude and broadcast their vision of a bright future. They tend to believe that people are generally good, not evil. Their optimism makes them more persuasive because they anticipate positive outcomes; this also helps them in negotiations. They are often perceived as good problem-solvers because they expect to succeed.

Most of all, charismatic people are bold. They have confidence; and the certainty that comes from solid knowledge in their area of expertise. It enables them to speak authoritatively or with assertiveness, and convince or sway people to their way of thinking.

Is It Charisma, Extroversion, or Narcissism?

Leaders are often extroverts and narcissists, but can they also genuinely be charismatic? An extrovert is outgoing, gregarious, sociable, friendly, talkative, and enjoys working in groups, but isn't necessarily trying to influence someone as does the charismatic person. An extrovert may also lack confident knowledge of the common values or goals. Narcissists are interested in influencing people, but they lack empathy for the individuals in the group, which is eventually recognized and undermines their ability to inspire action.

In closing, charisma is not something you are born with; it is a learned skill. You can become more charismatic by developing confidence in your expertise, amicability, listening skills, empathy, and finally, communication power.

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