As a leadership presence coach working with an array of talented clients, I was surprised to find how many people believed they lacked personal charisma. They believed, instead, that charisma is a talent granted to a few special people.
According to the “Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,” a 900-page academic book, the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers – whether in sports or surgery, ballet or computer programming – are nearly always made, not born.
We call someone charismatic when they somehow compel us to embrace their vision, whether corporate, social, or political. Like any other talent, charisma improves with practice.
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One of the most interesting findings from the Cambridge research is that there is little hard evidence that anyone could attain a level of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it. Rather than saying you don’t have charisma, a more accurate statement would be that you don’t have the desire to devote the time, energy and focus that it would take for you to develop it.
For example, body language plays a substantial role in charisma as it communicates emotions and motivations, likes and dislikes, interest and disengagement. Whether you are interviewing for a job, pitching your idea to a venture capitalist, or presenting a new business strategy to the board of directors, you are the most charismatic and convincing when what you are feeling internally is perfectly aligned with what you’re verbally expressing. (At which point your body language automatically becomes congruent with your words.) That’s why my coaching sessions always begin with questions about your emotional intent: What is the heart of the message you want to communicate? How do you truly feel about it? How important is this to you? Why do you think others should care?
Charismatic leaders also utilize a powerful combination of confidence and warmth communication cues. They have great posture, speak with conviction, display genuine smiles, maintain positive eye contact, use a variety of gestures, know when and how to be succinct, tell engaging stories, etc. And anyone can be coached to include more of these positive signals (and to reduce unwanted, negative signals) in their interactions.
Want to inspire others and display more of your genuine charisma? Then, practice! You’ll be amazed at how “talented” you can become.
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.
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