Authors: Olivia Fox Cabane
The Charisma Myth
How Anyone Can
Master the Art and Science
of Personal Magnetism
Olivia Fox Cabane
Portfolio • Penguin
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First published in 2012 by Portfolio/Penguin,
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Copyright © Olivia Fox Cabane, 2012
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cabane, Olivia Fox.
The charisma myth : how anyone can master the art and science of personal magnetism / Olivia Fox Cabane.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Charisma (Personality trait) I. Title.
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MARILYN MONROE WANTED
to prove a point.
It was a sunny summer day in New York City, 1955. With a magazine editor and a photographer in tow, Marilyn walked down into Grand Central Terminal. Though it was the middle of a busy workday and the platform was packed with people, not a single person noticed her as she stood waiting for the subway. As the photographer’s camera clicked, she boarded the train and rode along quietly in a corner of the car. Nobody recognized her.
Marilyn wanted to show that just by deciding to, she could be either glamorous Marilyn Monroe or plain Norma Jean Baker. On the subway, she was Norma Jean. But when she resurfaced onto the busy New York sidewalks, she decided to turn into Marilyn. She looked around and teasingly asked her photographer: “Do you want to see
?” There were no grand gestures—she just “fluffed up her hair, and struck a pose.”
With this simple shift, she suddenly became magnetic. An aura of magic seemed to ripple out from her, and everything stopped. Time
stood still, as did the people around her, who blinked in amazement as they suddenly recognized the star standing in their midst. In an instant Marilyn was engulfed by fans, and “it took several shoving, scary minutes” for the photographer to help her to escape the growing crowd.
Charisma has always been an intriguing and controversial topic. When I tell people at conferences or cocktail parties that I “teach charisma,” they immediately perk up and often exclaim, “But I thought it was something that you either have or don’t.” Some see it as an unfair advantage, others are eager to learn,
is fascinated. And they are right to be so. Charismatic people impact the world, whether they’re starting new projects, new companies, or new empires.
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be as magnetic as Bill Clinton or as captivating as Steve Jobs was? Whether you think you already have some charisma and would like to take it to the next level or you’ve been wishing for a bit of that magic but think that you just aren’t the charismatic type, I have good news: charisma is a skill that you can learn and practice.
What Will Charisma Do for You?
Imagine what your life would be like if you knew that the moment you entered a room, people would immediately take notice, want to hear what you have to say, and be eager to earn your approval.
For charismatic people, this is a way of life. Everyone is impacted by their presence. People are magnetically drawn to them and feel strangely compelled to help them in any way they can. Charismatic people seem to lead charmed lives: they have more romantic options, they make more money, and they experience less stress.
Charisma gets people to like you, trust you, and want to be led by you. It can determine whether you’re seen as a follower or a leader, whether your ideas get adopted, and how effectively your projects are implemented. Like it or not, charisma can make the world go round—it makes people
to do what you want them to do.
Charisma is, of course, critical in business. Whether you’re applying for a new job or want to advance within your organization, it will help you achieve your goal. Multiple concurring studies indicate that charismatic people receive higher performance ratings and are viewed as more effective by their superiors and subordinates.
If you’re a leader, or aspire to be one, charisma matters. It gives you a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the very best talent. It makes people want to work with you, your team, and your company. Research shows that those following charismatic leaders perform better, experience their work as more meaningful, and have more trust in their leaders than those following effective but noncharismatic leaders.
As Wharton School business professor Robert House notes, charismatic leaders “cause followers to become highly committed to the leader’s mission, to make significant personal sacrifices, and to perform above and beyond the call of duty.”
Charisma is what enables one successful salesman to sell five times more than his colleagues in the same region. It’s the difference between entrepreneurs who have investors banging on their doors and those who have to beg the bank for a loan.
The power of charisma is equally valuable outside of the business environment. It’s useful for the stay-at-home mom who needs to influence her children, their teachers, or other community members. It can be an invaluable tool for high school students who’d like to ace their college interviews or are running for leadership roles in student organizations. It can help individuals become more popular with their peers and feel more confident in social situations. Charismatic physicians are better liked by patients and are in greater demand, and their patients are more likely to adhere to the medical treatments they prescribe. They’re also less likely to be sued when things go wrong. Charisma matters even in research and academia: charismatic individuals are more likely to get published, to attract research funding from industry grants, or to teach the most desirable courses. The professor who is always surrounded by admiring students after lectures—that’s charisma, too.
It’s Not Magic, It’s Learned Behaviors
Contrary to popular belief, people are not simply born charismatic—innately magnetic from birth. If charisma were an inherent attribute, charismatic people would always be captivating, and that’s just not the case. Even for the most engaging superstar, charisma can be present one moment and absent the next. Marilyn Monroe could “turn off” her charisma like flipping a switch and go completely unnoticed. To turn her charisma back on, she simply changed her body language.
As extensive research in recent years has shown, charisma is the result of specific nonverbal behaviors,
not an inherent or magical personal quality. This is one of the reasons why charisma levels fluctuate: its presence depends on whether or not someone is exhibiting these behaviors.
Have you ever had the experience of feeling totally confident, master of a situation? A moment when people seemed impressed by you—even just one moment of the people around you going “Wow!” We don’t necessarily think of these experiences as charisma, or consider ourselves charismatic, because we assume that charismatic people are magnetic every instant of every day. They aren’t.
One of the reasons charisma is mistakenly held to be innate is that, like many other social skills, charismatic behaviors are generally learned early in life. In fact, people usually don’t consciously realize they are learning them. They’re just trying new behaviors, seeing the results, and refining them. Eventually, the behaviors become instinctive.
Countless well-known charismatic figures worked hard to gain their charisma, increasing it step by step. But because we come to know them at the peak of their charisma, it can be hard to believe these superstars weren’t always so impressive.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, considered one of the most charismatic CEOs of the decade, did not start out that way. In fact, if you watch his earliest presentations, you’ll see that he came across as bashful and awkward, veering from overly dramatic to downright
nerdy. Jobs progressively increased his level of charisma over the years, and you can see the gradual improvement in his public appearances.
Charisma has come under the scrutiny of sociologists, psychologists, and cognitive and behavioral scientists. It has been studied in multiple ways, from clinical laboratory experiments and cross-sectional and longitudinal survey research to qualitative interpretative analysis. The subjects of these studies have been presidents, military leaders, students of all ages, and business executives from low-level managers to CEOs. Thanks to such research, we now understand charisma as a set of behaviors.
What Does Charismatic Behavior Look Like?
When we first meet someone, we instinctively assess whether that person is a potential friend or foe and whether they have the power to enact those intentions. Power and intentions are what we’re aiming to assess. “Could you move mountains for me? And would you care to do so?” To answer the first question, we try to assess how much power he or she has. To answer the second question, we try to assess how much he or she likes us. When you meet a charismatic person, you get the impression that they have a lot of power and they like you a lot.