12 ways to become a charismatic leader

People are drawn to charismatic leaders and are more willing to perform above and beyond the call of duty for them

They say "you either got it, or you don't." But when it comes to charisma, you don't have to have it — you can learn it. 

According to Olivia Fox Cabane's book "The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism," people aren't born with charisma. They acquire it through knowledge and practice.

Charismatic leaders are more influential, persuasive, and inspiring.

People are magnetically drawn to them and more willing to perform above and beyond the call of duty to support them.

So how can you become more charismatic? We've compiled the most useful tips and tricks from the book below.

This is an update of an article originally written by Vivian Giang.


Loosen up; you don't have to be the most attractive person in the room.

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Yes, we all agree that being attractive certainly has its advantages, but it's definitely not a requirement. 

Winston Churchill wasn't a sex symbol, but he's still considered one of the most influential leaders in history.


Make people feel like they're the most intelligent, impressive, and fascinating person you've ever met.

To make someone feel as if they're the only person that matters, do these three things during conversations:

1. Lower the intonation of your voice at the end of sentences.

2. Reduce how quickly and often you nod.

3. Pause for two full seconds before speaking.


Always be present.

A study conducted by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert estimated that 46.9% of the mind is spent "wandering."

"Being present means simply having a moment-to-moment awareness of what's happening," Fox Cabane writes. "It means paying attention to what's going on rather than being caught up in your thoughts."

In the middle of a conversation, if your mind is somewhere else, your eyes will glaze over and your companions will notice. Make an effort to be in the moment.


Think of something pleasant so you appear to be sincere.

Your brain doesn't know the difference between imagination and reality so when you imagine something pleasant, your body will react in an open, accepting manner and make you appear more sincere. 

It only takes 17 milliseconds for people to read your face, so any "split-second microexpression" has a good chance of being caught. Fox Cabane writes:

If there's an incongruence between our main expression and that microexpression, people will feel it on a subconscious level: their gut will tell them something's not quite right.

There's a clear, visible difference between a social smile and a true smile. Think of something pleasant and your smile will be a real one. 


Make sure you have a solid handshake.

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The right handshake will do more for you than an expensive suit will. To appear more open and inviting, rise if you're sitting to be similar heights and keep your hands out of your pockets when you shake someone's hand.

And be sure to avoid the worst types of handshakes: 

  1. The Dead Fish: This happens when one hand is extended into another, but there is barely any movement.
  2. The Knuckle Cruncher: This happens when there's too much force. The violator is usually someone who doesn't know their own strength or someone who is trying to prove that they should be taken seriously.
  3. The Dominant: This happens when the hand's palm is extended down, which symbolizes the offender having the "upper hand." The opposite of this is "The Twisting Dominant," which is where the hand is normal at first, but then twists to gain the upper hand once contact is made.
  4. The Politician's Handshake: This happens when the other person uses their free hand to cover the handshake, the other person's wrist, arm, or shoulder.

Become an excellent listener by deliberately pausing and asking questions.

John F. Kennedy was known as a "superb listener" who made others feel like he was "with them completely."

When most of us are trying to show that we're listening, we typically wait for someone to be done speaking before we start. This is not a sufficient method. Instead, ask them questions. If you're truly not interested, it will show on your face that you're secretly waiting for your turn to speak.


Choose your seat carefully around a table.

When people sit across from one another with a table separating them, they tend to argue more and speak in shorter sentences.

If you want to avoid confrontation with someone, sit next to them or at a 90-degree angle from them. Also avoid seating them with their back to an open space, especially if there is a lot of commotion going on behind them.


Don't compare yourself to others.

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It's in our nature to compare ourselves to others, but if you're criticizing yourself, "the threat response impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving," David Rock, the founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, told Fox Cabane.

This affects us personally, but it also affects how others perceive us.


Combine your power with warmth to create a full, charismatic package.

To show that you're powerful, you don't have to physically have great strength. You can achieve this status by maintaining a strong persona — either by displaying intelligence, like Bill Gates, or kindness, like the Dalai Lama. 

When you increase your level of power, your charisma level also increases, but it's best to combine this with warmth so you don't appear too cold or dictatorial.


Don't let self-doubt affect your persona.

In 1978, Georgia State University professors discovered that the "impostor syndrome" affected 70% of the population at one point or another. When you have it, you feel like a fraud and fear that you'll one day be exposed. You may worry that your success in life has been the result of some kind of error or think that everyone around you is more intelligent than you.

Highly successful people like Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg have confessed to feeling this way sometimes. This kind of self-doubt can make you appear untruthful and unsure of yourself, repelling people rather than drawing them to you. While there's no magic cure, sharing your feelings with a trusted confidant may help relieve them. 


Make time to warm up before a big event.

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When it's important that you're charismatic, make sure you fit in a warm up period that allows you to gradually ramp up to the level you want. 

You wouldn't run a marathon without warming up or give a speech without practicing — so don't think you can simply be charismatic on the spot. Get in the mental state of warmth and power by taking part in an activity beforehand that makes you happy.

If running calms you, then make time for this or simply listen to your favorite music before an important meeting. Make sure the playlist has songs with themes of self-confidence, warmth, empathy, and patience.


Know that there are different charisma styles.

You can choose different styles based on your own personality and situation. Whatever you do, don't force it or you'll end up seeming unauthentic. 

Here are the different styles:

  1. Focus: This style is based on the perception of presence. Adopt this when you want people to feel like they're the only ones in the room with you.
  2. Visionary: This style makes other people feel inspired.
  3. Kindness: This kind of charisma comes from body language and is based mostly on warmth. However, if you don't combine this with some authoritative skills, you'll come off as overeager.
  4. Authority: This is the most powerful charisma style, and those who acquire it are not likeable all the time. We evaluate this power through four indicators: body language, appearance, title, and reactions of others. 

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