Can we teach and learn Charisma?

In past times, charisma was defined as a divine gift. Either, you had it – or you had to live without it. But not anymore. To answer the question from this article´s headline: Yes, we can.

At least, this is what researchers John Antonakis, Marika Fenley and Sue Liechti propose via an article that was published in 2011 in “Academy of Management Learning and Education”.

To begin, we should ask how to recognize a charismatic person. The answer: We probably do not see it in directly when looking at an individual, but rather in the impact that person has on other human beings. Charismatic individuals manage to win other people over, to evoke certain emotions and a willingness to act. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to label somebody a leader when that person resides on a deserted island. Much in the same way, it´s not practical to call somebody charismatic when nobody is there to witness that radiance.

Charisma is process, a product of interaction.

Now, what can we to influence this process, what can we do to increase the likelihood of being perceived as charismatic? Antonakis et al. suggest charisma (at least: being perceived as a charismatic speaker) can be boiled down to a set of 12 specific behaviors – what they denote as Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLT).

Charismatic speakers…

1) use metaphors;

2) use stories and anecdotes;

use 3) contrasts, 4) lists, and 5) rhetorical questions;

6) demonstrate moral conviction;

7) share the sentiments of the collective;

8) set high expectations for themselves and their followers; and 9) communicate confidence that these goals can be met.

On the nonverbal level, charismatic speakers…

10) use vivid body gestures and 11) facial expressions;

and 12) an animated voice tone.

Using a sample of managers from a Swiss corporation and another one that consisted of MBA students, the researchers demonstrated that these CLTs can be taught/learned in a relatively short amount of time. During a five-hour training session that consisted of several exercises and analyzing movies and famous contemporary speeches, they were able to significantly improve their participants´ post-intervention performance such that they were perceived as considerably more charismatic (and more leader-like in general…) by their peers.

I think this is fantastic news. Not everybody can be a Barack Obama. But we all could be significantly more charismatic than we are today.


Barack Obama vs. Gordon Brown: Are you “holding back”? And what if you wouldn´t?

If you´re not here for the very first time, you probably know about Esa Saarinen and his theory about Systems of Holding Back. More precisely, they are defined as “mutually aggregating spirals which lead people to hold back contributions they could make” (“because others hold back contributions they could make”). You can read more about this topic here.

Recently, someone pointed my attention to this short footage of Barack Obama visiting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It´s a perfect example of Esa´s theory. Now ask yourself: How many times a day am I Obama – and how often am I Brown?

A Pain in the Ass: What Teachers and Speakers could learn from Colonoscopy

A couple of days ago, James Pawelski, the MAPP´s director, sent us a comprehensive reading list. It also contains Authentic Happiness, one of Martin Seligman´s earlier popular science books on Positive Psychology. Right at the beginning, Seligman describes an experiment that was carried out by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and colleagues.

Before I go into detail: Since you can read this text, I assume you went to school for a couple of years. Consequently, you´ve experienced being taught by a lot of different teachers – with their teaching skills representing a kind of bell curve: most were more or less o.k., a few were superduper, and some were the proverbial pain in the ass. Basically, it´s the same with (keynote) speakers. I attend a lot of conferences and conventions. Once again, most speakers are okish, a few rock, and some, unfortunately, just waste your time.

Now obviously, not everybody can be a master of rhetoric like, e.g., Barack Obama. But even if – for whatever reason – you suck big time by objective criteria, you can still manage to make a lasting, somewhat positive impression on your audience by adhering to a simple rule:

Save the best for last!

Try to give a first-class conclusion! Thanks to the so called recency effect, most people will tend to forget your overall performance. Instead, their evaluation will be by and large based on the final minutes of your performance.

For scientific proof, let´s go back to Kahneman – and a real pain in the ass. For a study, he and his colleagues surveyed several hundred people that had to undergo a colonoscopy. By random assignment, half the patients had a minute added to the end of their procedure during which the tip of the colonoscope remained in the rectum – but without moving, which is considerably less painful than any movement. The results in a nutshell: even though they experienced more pain all in all, patients who underwent the prolonged procedure rated the entire experience as significantly less unpleasant. Additionally, rates of returning for a repeat colonoscopy were slightly higher.

Thank God, speaking skills can be improved easily – beyond just giving a nice conclusion. For inspiration, you might want check out this blog post listing 15 TED Talks on happiness, motivation, and more.