Learning Charisma — Transform yourself into the person others want to follow

November 06, 2017

Charisma can be learned. We can practice acquiring the ability to inspire followers towards a clear vision and instil deep levels of trust. We can earn the charismatic skills by effort even though we were not born and naturally gifted. We can be more leader likes from the other people perspective using the Charismatic leader tactics (CLTs).

The word charisma was first popularised by the great, early twentieth-century German sociology by the name of Max Weber. The power of charisma is to motivate. The leaders have the ability to use reasoned rhetoric, establish moral credibility as well as evoke followers passions. The followers have a sense of purpose, be inspired to achieve a great thing and even blind faith. In the research, nine verbal and three nonverbal tactics are identified.

First, by using metaphors, similes and analogies, charismatic speakers can help listeners to understand, relate to and remember a message. In my personal experience, this is especially important as a role as an IT consultant to convey technical content in business language with senior management. For example, to explain why our scrum team developers need to be cross-functional, I would analogue ourselves as a team of Navy SEAL special force with different specialisation. A sniper could not survive in the war room if he could only shoot, but not able to handle explosives. Similarly, an android developer should learn a bit about iOS development, just in case there is an urgent hot-fix in a production environment. This explains well about the idea to learn and adapt to an agile team.

Second, by using stories and anecdotes, it makes messages more engaging and helps listeners connect with the speaker. It can motivate and inspired other people. Charismatic leaders are a particular expression in their verbal communication with skills to look for ways to invoke common ground in the audience. In Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, he talked about some of the most pivotal points in his life [6]. This is one of the best speeches that connect deeply with another person’s soul and best written from the heart. His stories are short but still inspires me to do great work by love what I do.

Third, contrasts are one of the easiest tactics that combine reason and passion to clarify your position with a dramatic effect. For instance, at the Inaugural address on January 1962, John F. Kennedy said: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This is a powerful rhythm to draw attention and by polarising two concepts, make it more compelling.

Fourth, rhetorical questions can be used to encourage engagement. A good example would be the public speech “I Have a Dream” delivered by American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. This is a masterpiece to discuss the gap between the American dream and reality and inspire over 250,000 civil rights supporters defining a moment of the Civil Rights Movement.

Fifth, three-part lists are another old trick of effective persuasion that distils any message into key takeaways. A famous example would be the Gettysburg Address by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. In his speech, his famous phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” influence the people during the American Civil War. We feel like the list is complete after we hear the third item.

Sixth, expressions of moral conviction and statements that reflect the emotions of the group. This establishes the leader’s credibility by revealing the quality of your character to your listeners and making them align themselves with you.

Seventh, setting high goals and demonstrate passion helps charismatic leaders to inspire the followers. He or she must also convey confidence that the goals can be achieved. Passion cannot emerge unless the leader truly believes that the vision and strategic goal can be reached.

The three nonverbal are animated voice, facial expressions and gestures respectively. They do not come naturally to everyone but they are easier for the followers to process than the verbal tactics. Evidence shows that people who use them appropriately can unite followers around a vision that others can’t.

On the application, I can experiment and practice the tactics in my IT consulting firm since I recently got promoted to a team lead position for a technically challenging project about a mobile app in one of the airlines in Hong Kong. Since the skills were not limited to public speaking but also in everyday conversations, I can create a stronger emotional connection with team members and make myself appear more powerful, competent and worthy of respect by applying the skills.

The best way to learn tactics is preparation and practice. These key tactics arm myself before a public speech as well as one-on-one conversations in which I need to be persuasive and come out spontaneously. Every three weeks at the sprint end, I need to demo the product which is what our team has accomplished. By using animated voice, facial expressions and gestures, I can better show off the coolest features with confidence and get clients excited about our team’s work. With a balanced combination of the tactics, my presentation got better feedback as a result based on the honest critics I received. It is wrong to think I cannot improve because I was not born to be naturally charismatic. With training and practice, I was able to significantly narrow the gap and make myself more charismatic in the eyes of the team members, which make me a more effective team leader for our project.

Written by Victor Leung who is a keen traveller to see every country in the world, passionate about cutting edge technologies. Follow me on Twitter