Master These 12 Skills to Become a Charismatic Leader

Jun 21, 2012
6 Min Read

Charismatic leaders are visionary; they have a distinguished ability to inspire by communicating a clear message that unites people and motivates them to act. Commonly cited charismatic leaders are Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Steve Jobs. They are often experts in their field, but their unique power comes from conveying presence, charm, and a sense of accomplishment. In a way, charisma is the ultimate skill of great leadership, excellent management, and high team performance.

For many years, charisma was thought of as a special gift. The fortunate extraverted leader who possessed charisma was sure to go far. But recently researchers John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, and Sue Liechti of University of Lausanne found that training managers on what they call “charismatic leadership tactics” (CLTs) can enable them to be more influential and trustworthy; we can learn charisma. Their overall finding has been that 65% of people who receive training on charisma are rated as above average leaders (as a comparison, just 35% of those who don’t receive such training are rated as above average).

So what does this training consist of? How can you learn charisma? Learn the following 12 tactics, understand how they can be used at work, and start practicing!

Metaphors, similes, and analogies: make your message easier to understand and remember; help your audience relate to your message.

Stories and anecdotes: make your message more engaging; help your audience connect emotionally with you. Sheryl Sandberg used plenty of these in her graduation speech to the HBS class of 2012.

Contrasts: a contrast is when you make clear what you don’t want, what you don’t mean. By highlighting the opposite, you clarify your message with a dramatic effect.

Rhetorical questions: encourage engagement and deeper thinking about your message. For example, you can ask questions to assist in coaching an employee to set goals, while facilitating a strategy session, or to push back against unrealistic goals set by your manager.

Three-part lists: make your message more memorable by breaking it down into three main points. Three things are easy to remember and form a pattern or sense of completeness.

Express moral conviction: establish credibility by revealing your character; helps your audience identify with you. For example, emphasize impact or highlight a connection to company values.

Reflect the group’s sentiments: show empathy by expressing what everyone is feeling. Make the elephant in the room explicit, even if it is negative. Display authenticity to achieve alignment.

Set high goals: maximize opportunity and capitalize on motivation by going after what everyone really wants; mediocre goals are not inspiring.

Convey confidence that goals can be achieved: inspire confidence in others; be the rock to convey assurance that your vision can be reached.

Animated voice (nonverbal): vary volume and utilize pauses to emphasize a point; express the corresponding emotion (sadness, happiness, excitement, surprise, etc.) along with the message itself.

Facial expressions (nonverbal): eye contact is a biggie; support your communication visually. Display emotion via smiling, laughing, frowning.

Gestures (nonverbal): signal to reinforce your message. For example, waving a hand, pointing, or even pounding a desk can focus attention.

There are five other useful charismatic leadership tactics, but the researchers found they are less effective than the twelve named above. They are worth looking at, especially because some of them are encouraged quite often:

  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • Invoking history
  • Using repetition
  • Talking about sacrifice
  • Using humor

I would guess that these five are less useful in general, but perhaps more useful specifically. For example, in certain situations, creating a sense of urgency works. In others, it is a waste of time. Or perhaps for certain personalities, using humor works. For others, it will never be effective.

Learning these skills will require practice and employing these tactics effectively will require a behavioral change. This means you won’t be transformed overnight. At first, they might feel foreign and unnatural. But over time, you can make them your own.

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