Charisma is easy to notice but hard to define.
Some people just capture our attention—they walk into a room and immediately turn heads. When they speak, people listen. Others are off-putting and abrasive. But why they have this effect on us is sometimes difficult to articulate.
There’s an area of psychological research that says the way a person makes people feel is a measurable part of his or her personality. Roughly 10 years ago, professors Hillary Anger Elfenbein and Noah Eisenkraft coined the phrase “affective presence” to describe this idea.
People with positive affective presence—or what we’d colloquially call charisma— make others feel good, even if they personally are anxious or sad. The opposite is true for those with negative affective presence, or those who lack charisma.
According to Elfenbein, “Our own way of being has an emotional signature.”
In the business world, charisma goes a long way. Think of Steve Jobs. He wasn’t a tech genius, but he was able to convince smart people to believe in his dream and propel Apple to the top due to his charisma and ingenuity.
Here’s a breakdown of this elusive trait, and why it’s so important—especially in the workplace.
1. Charismatic people are emotionally intelligent.
Charismatic people naturally put people at ease. While there isn’t a ton of research on the subject, psychologists posit that it has to do with body language, or tone of voice, or being a good listener.
But researchers suggest that a big part of affective presence may be how people regulate emotions—those of others and their own.
Throughout the day, everyone experiences short periods of annoyance, excitement, or sadness. But we all differ in how we react to these emotional blibs. Professor Elfenbein asks, “Can you regulate yourself so those blips don’t infect other people? Can you smooth over the noise in your life so other people aren’t affected by it?”
Charismatic people can, and Elfenbein hypothesizes charisma is closely linked to emotional intelligence.
Leaders with charisma can put everyone at ease by finding the positive in a bad situation, without suppressing their own emotions. They also understand what to say and what to not say to diffuse tension. They know how to actively listen and make people feel special.
We all have that friend who seems to know exactly what to say to assure us after a bad day, or who can make us feel extra special when we accomplish something important to us.
Charismatic leaders are these people, and everyone feels better when they’re around.
2. They’re skilled communicators with a vision.
In his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek wrote: “Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.”
Charismatic leaders are skilled communicators. They speak clearly and carefully and ensure that each statement has a purpose. They can articulate a compelling vision and arouse strong emotions in their audiences. When they speak, their listeners perk up and pay attention.
Leaders are also aware of their body language. They have good posture and maintain eye contact when speaking. They’re comfortable speaking in front of large groups and intimate settings alike.
No matter what the situation, they strongly articulate their goals and vision.
If you want to develop charisma, practice the same. When you walk into a crowded room, learn to mask your discomfort until you build confidence. Stand tall and walk proudly. Make eye contact when you speak to people. Dress classy and professional. And don’t forget to smile.
Before long, you won’t be acting.
3. They respect and inspire their teams.
Charismatic leaders inspire and motivate followers to perform at high levels and to be committed to the organization or the cause.
Organizational behavior professor Hector Madrid argued that leaders with charisma have teams that are better at sharing information, which leads to more innovation. Subordinates are also more likely to voice their ideas to a leader with charisma.
“When you propose novel ideas, that is in some way dangerous, because you are challenging the status quo,” Madrid says. “People are not necessarily open to novel ideas, so in order to speak your ideas, you need to feel safe. Positive emotions are important for that.”
Charismatic people inspire action within others. They make others believe in what they are doing to inspire them to help them achieve their goals. Finally, they make everyone around them feel special and a greater part of the cause, rather than just an employee.
If you develop charisma and bring it to the workplace, you’ll inspire your team to thrive.