Is Charisma Innate or Can it be Learned?

Charisma: literally translated as "gift from god." Before you click away thinking "well, if it’s a gift from god, then it’s obviously innate and there’s nothing I can do about it", stop. Think about gifts from god. If your "gift" is to need glasses, you can have laser surgery. If your gift is a natural ability with an instrument, you still need to refine your skills and learn to play it better. So the short answer is "both": everyone is born with some charisma, but anyone can learn to have more.

A little less literally defined, charisma is about being able to communicate a clear and persuasive message that inspires and motivates people to take action. How do you effectively convey a message? By having conviction in what you’re saying and by saying it in a way that makes people want to listen - forget boring lectures and opt instead for an animated speech with stories and rhetorical questions that get people involved.

John Antonakis gave a TEDx speech called Charisma Matters in which he says that charisma is both innate and learned. He proved that charisma can be identified just by looking at a picture of someone, but that you can also control your amount of charisma by thinking about what you say and how you say it. You need to paint a picture with metaphors and stories that bring your points to life; you need to draw people in by echoing what they’re thinking, and you need the facial expressions and physical movement in the same way you do when talking to a friend. He also mentions lists of three giving a sense of completeness and having a nice ring to it, so let’s look at three points about being charismatic:

Charisma is the Same as Emotional Intelligence

What does emotional intelligence mean? It means understanding people in a way that helps you to communicate with them and to come across as someone who is positive and optimistic; people like you, which means they’re more likely to listen to you and start paying attention when you walk into a room. What’s an interesting fact about both charisma and emotional intelligence? Some people have more than others, but everyone can get better at it. 

It’s all about being a skilled communicator: an emotionally intelligent person is a skilled communicator, and a skilled communicator is considered a charismatic person. People are drawn to people who are charismatic, because they know that this is going to be someone who understands them and voices the things they’re thinking – if they don’t have the self-confidence to say it.

The biggest inhibitor to charisma is a lack of self confidence, or the "impostor syndrome" phenomenon; if you’re forever living in fear that someone’s about to expose you as a fraud, then you can’t focus on being charming and charismatic. The more confident you are in yourself, the more you have faith in what you’re saying and the easier it will be to get others to believe in those same things - and in you.

The Three Elements of Charisma

Every person who we consider charismatic is charismatic in different ways; aside from an ability to be inspirational, how else would you connect the Dalai Lama to Steve Jobs? Having charisma might mean having "it", but just like on the X Factor, "it" means different things for different people. There are four types of charisma - focus, visionary, kindness and authority - and three essential elements that people have in varying levels that indicate which style they have:

  • Presence. A charismatic person walks into a room and immediately has everyone’s attention. Like Marilyn Monroe. But how about her alter ego, Norma Jean Baker? She actually experimented with this herself and found that she could almost literally turn her charisma on and off: by acting like Norma Jean on the subway, she was ignored, but by striking a pose and flicking her hair like Marilyn everyone suddenly noticed her. Marilyn was confident and had a mission to be noticed, and her presence demanded to be felt.
  • Power. As soon as you stop trying to please others, you gain power. Your power and your charisma lies in your confidence; your faith in yourself and your beliefs. If you believe strongly enough and have the conviction to try to get others to share in your belief and follow you into action, then you have far more power than the person focused on simply being liked.
  • Warmth. Charismatic people are liked people; liked people are warm and someone you feel you could share a drink with should the opportunity arise. Actors often auction off the chance to have dinner with them, and it raises a lot of money - because they have the charisma to make you like them in the first place and the warmth to make you want to spend time with them.

Charisma isn’t about pleasing others, but about having the self respect to be able to sell yourself and get your message across. You make people feel that you care about them and you understand them, like a preacher who cares about his flock and sharing god’s message. To enhance your charisma, you should stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla and speak like a preacher; be in the moment without being overbearing, display confidence and speak in a slow, resonating way in a warm voice that draws people in. The person who can shout the loudest isn’t the most charismatic, they’re just choosing volume over conviction.

Learning to be Charismatic Doesn’t Mean Losing Yourself

While we’ve been discussing increasing your charisma, which might sound inauthentic, it doesn’t have to mean becoming a completely different person. Being authentic is about staying true to your values and recognizing that you need to change as your circumstances change; every time you try something new, you have to adapt your behaviour to become a slightly different person, and there’s nothing false about that.

Become charismatic by developing new behaviours that remain true to your values. It might be awkward at first, but as you learn your style you will find that your values don’t need to change in order to convince people to follow you: they’re interested in you and the way you deliver your message. Believe it or not, Steve Jobs had to learn to be charismatic; he didn’t change his beliefs, he simply learned to present himself in a better, more confident way so that people would notice him.

See Also: 4 Interesting Ways to Boost Your Self Confidence

You might argue that learning to be charismatic takes away the entire point; people are charismatic because they’re different and it’s their admirers’ attempts to emulate them that creates different kinds of charisma. I ask you: when an athlete trains really hard to be like their role model, do they seem less authentic? No. Training as an athlete is just the same as training to be charismatic: you’re always going to put your own spin on it. So stop sabotaging yourself because of your self-doubts or your belief that charisma is innate, and get out there and be your most charismatic self!

Do you have charisma? Who is your charismatic role model? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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