6 Ways To Become A Charismatic Leader

April 2nd, 2018 by LaRae Quy

The most charismatic leader I have ever met was an FBI supervisor who had a powerful personality, a powerful sense of humor, and a powerful ability to motivate the agents who worked for him.

Many of our most effective leaders are labeled charismatic and yet it was not something they were born with. They acquired it through knowledge and practice.

We can learn effective leadership skills. In the same way, charisma is a process of learning how to motivate others to help achieve group goals. We are not born with a natural ability to win the hearts and minds of others.

Many people confuse charisma with likability and while likable people can be persuasive, charismatic leaders have thoughtfully fine-tuned their public image into one where they are seen to be someone who advances the interests of the group they represent.

Charisma is not something possessed by a leader; it is foisted upon the leader by followers. It is a gift bestowed by the group because the leader has conveyed to the group that they all share the same sense of worth, vision, and goals.

German sociologist Max Weber did not believe charisma was a rare quality possessed by certain lucky individuals. Instead, he said that what is important is how the individual is regarded by his/her followers. In other words, followers distinguish the leader from others and confer charisma on him or her.

A charismatic leader is someone who is emotionally competent—a core component of mental toughness.

Here are 6 ways to become a charismatic leader:

1. Win The Hearts Of Followers

Charisma centers on the capacity for a leader to be seen by followers as someone who advances the interests of the group. We trust the leader to take us in the right direction and believe he/she is one of us.

It’s important, however, that the group feels on equal footing with the leader, so find ways to confirm in their minds that you are all in it together and that your self-worth is tied to their best interests.

The inaugural addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy represent charismatic leadership. FDR spins a tale of how he overcame adversity while JFK reminded people of youth and opportunity. In neither case was the charisma that flowed from their speeches self-evident. Rather, both were constructed to win over their followers.

How To Make It Work For You: Use stories and anecdotes when you speak to others. They help people feel engaged, and as a result, they will feel connected with you.  When you show your team how you’ve worked together with others in the past, it assures them that you’ll do it again. Stories and anecdotes also provide a way for others to visualize how they could have been a valuable team member if they had been there.

2. Make People Feel Special

No matter who you are, take the time to make the person across from you feel important and fascinating. Make them feel as though you are completely with them as you follow their conversation. 

A study conducted by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert estimated that 46.9% of the time our mind “wanders.” To make a person feel special, focus on what they say and reflect back on what you heard. We are active listeners when we have a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening. In the middle of a conversation, if your mind is somewhere else, your eyes will glaze over and your companions will notice. Make an effort to be in the moment.

Most of us wait for someone to finish speaking before we offer our response. Instead, ask them questions. It’s another way to let others know that they are special and you are truly interested in what they have to say.

How To Make It Work For You: 1) Nod occasionally, not frequently; 2) Ask questions, even if it means interrupting them because it shows that you are genuinely interested; 3) Don’t let your eyes wander— stay fixed on their face; and 4) Pause for a couple of seconds before responding. This lets others know that your response will be thoughtful.

3. Use The Right Words

Solidarity in vision and direction of the company inspires people and increases group optimism for the future. When group identity is strong, there is more likelihood of referring to the group as “us.” Use words like us and we rather than me and I. When you’re dealing with diverse groups, divide and conquer. Find ways to use the words us and we when talking to each group separately. Each group needs to be left with the impression that you are on their side.

But here is where charisma becomes more of an art than a science—never let others feel that you are not genuine in the way you reach out. Show diverse groups that you understand the unique struggles they face, and that by advocating for one it does not imply you are abandoning the other.

When President Reagan was asked what voters saw in him, he responded, “I think they see themselves and that I am one of them.”

A charismatic leader is someone who clarifies what we believe rather than telling people what they believe. They are able to lead their audience to draw the conclusions one desires rather than spelling out those ideas for them. A charismatic leader allows their story to unfold rather than issue an order or proclamation. This allows followers to make up their own mind. In doing so, you’ve implied that you rely on your followers to use their own intelligence and experience to draw the right conclusions.

How To Make It Work For You: Use words that people can relate to. Charismatic leaders use words that are concrete rather than abstract. “I feel your pain” creates an emotional tie whereas a phrase like “I understand” does not. The most charismatic leader is the one talks to people’s gut rather than their brain.

4. Be Sincere

A charismatic leader watches their body language because they know it’s vital that they give the impression they are open and sincere to the people they meet. Paul Ekman’s research tells us that it takes as little as 17 milliseconds for people to read another person’s face. We may present a primary expression to others when we meet them, but if the micro-expression that we leak is incongruent with the primary expression, people will know in their gut that you’re not sincere.

Studies have shown that our brains do not know the difference between imagination and reality. Visualization is another important mental toughness tool because we can trick our mind into believing we will succeed at a task.

How To Make It Work For You: Think of something pleasant when meeting others. It will show in your face. When you smile, make it sincere. That means your cheeks must push up and create wrinkles around your eyes. Yes, wrinkles can be a good thing.

5. Learn How To Read Body Language

The brain controls all behaviors, both conscious and subconscious. This premise is the cornerstone if you want to understand verbal and non-verbal communication.

The limbic system is that part of the brain that reacts to events around us—in real time and without thought.

These reactions are genuine and are considered to be the “honest” part of our brain. The limbic brain enlists the body to send messages about what it is really feeling. The body will signal stress and discomfort in a variety of ways, and we interpret these behaviors as body language.

How To Make It Work For You: Turn off the volume of your favorite television show and watch without any sound. Figure out what is going on in the scenes. Then watch the scene again, only this time with the volume turned on. This practice will help you become more attuned to verbal and non-verbal cues.

6. Create A Strong Persona

Charismatic leaders communicate with confidence and clarity. People sit up and pay attention. They are clear and articulate with their words and ensure that each statement has a purpose.No matter what the situation, they articulate their goals and vision.

Warren Bennis wrote, “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens, people feel centered, and that gives their work meaning.”

A strong persona means that you are confident in your abilities but not puffed up because of them. It also means that you have no self-doubt about your talents and skill sets.

How To Make It Work For YouA strong persona does not require great physical strength or ego; however, it does require two things: 1) full display of your core competencies (intelligence, kindness, empathy, etc) mixed with 2) warmth of personality.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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3 Responses to “6 Ways To Become A Charismatic Leader”

  1. Debbie says:

    LaRae, Thank you for following your calling and empowering women leaders! I finished your book a couple of weeks ago and look forward to following your blog. I went back to school at 45 years old and now have my master’s degree in nursing. I feel like I am slipping on your coat of many colors as I step into my role as a nurse leader. Again, thank you.

  2. Excellent insights LaRae! I love your points about charisma being something we learn how to do. One charismatic leader I worked for had the ability to make me feel empowered and able to tackle even the most difficult tasks. She basically gave me total freedom to meet with all the senior leaders and create my own questions to understand their challenges. She set me up for success.

    Thanks LaRae1

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