“I’ve come back to see you; do some of you want to kill me?”
Those were the words Napoleon Bonaparte called out to the first soldiers he met after escaping exile and returning to France. It’s a funny thing to say to a group of people pointing guns at you. But, even in the face of death, he couldn’t help but teach a lesson on how to be charismatic. Fortunately for Bonaparte, the soldiers dropped their weapons and ran toward the leader they loved, crying, “Vive l’Empereur!” By the time he reached Fontainebleau, 36,000 troops followed him.
For better or worse, Bonaparte’s charisma gave him power.
Warmth, listening, flexibility, and openness were all qualities that made Bonaparte have charisma. He expanded his empire by making people feel good, convincing his followers they held greatness inside of them—a power he could help unleash.
Charisma calls people to action, so real change in the world occurs. It’s a common trait important charismatic leaders like Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela all used to move the masses.
However, if you aspire to be more charming and charismatic, know that out of all the leadership styles, this one has a hidden dark side. “Charisma” can be vain, egotistical, arrogant, and authoritarian without a vision that achieves a just cause that benefits society. For every great person who practices charismatic leadership, there’s an equally diabolical one: Adolph Hitler, Fidel Castro, Benito Mussolini—the list goes on.
Find out below how to be charismatic while also getting tips on ways to avoid becoming a toxic boss at work.
How To Be More Charismatic
1. Practice Active Listening
In terms of acknowledging others’ feelings, thoughts, and words, charismatic leaders use body language like nodding their head, leaning in when someone is speaking, or making eye contact. Executives and managers should also repeat back what they’re hearing, ask questions, and communicate a plan of attack. You want to make people feel like they can trust and confide in you to be a source of help, relief, and support. For this reason, no conversation should be entirely one-sided.
2. Remain Humble
Charismatic people with the right intentions are humble and selfless despite their success. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz (formerly SEOmoz) is a great example of a charismatic leader who stays humble. He made his performance review public and wrote an entire book dedicated to the failures he’s made in his work life so others could learn from his mistakes.
People respect leaders who step up and take extreme ownership of poor results, failures, or bad outcomes. It’s an admirable trait that communicates you care about others more than you care about saving face.
3. Praise Others Often and Publicly
Remember, becoming more charismatic is more about how you make others feel. If you’re constantly lifting those around you up in life, you’ll be thought of as a leader who truly values those helping them fulfill company goals.
To do this, put careful thought into what you want to honor someone else for and why. Focus on being specific, meaning tailor your appreciation toward each person’s unique contributions to the team.
4. Be Confident in Yourself
When you have charisma as a leader, you don’t feed off of external praise and validation. Confidence stems from the internal validation of working toward the greater good.
Confidence isn’t something you have to fake when you’re aligned with your purpose and mission in life. It’s something that comes from within. It’s the self-assurance you’re in the right place, and you’re doing the right thing. You don’t need others to tell you this.
5. Dress for the Part
Martin Luther King Jr. dressed like a minister.
Steve Jobs was synonymous with his black turtleneck.
Richard Branson wears jeans and a white t-shirt every day.
All of these outfits communicate a different message about who these leaders are in life. This is because clothes are a way for us to set ourselves apart as individuals. They signal things like identity, social status, and personality.
If you want to learn how to be more charismatic, wear clothes that make you seem approachable and relatable. For example, don’t show up to volunteer at a local church looking like you just left Rodeo Drive. It’ll make you appear disingenuous and out of touch with your community. When you look like you don’t need to stand out, people will perceive you as humble and confident.
6. Be Engaging
It goes without saying, people want to follow a leader who understands and connects with them like no other. Ask personal questions, use a person’s name, and show interest in learning more about who each individual you speak to is. Mountains start moving when people feel like you’re invested in them. Followers must hear you need them by your side in order to accomplish your just cause with success.
7. Make More Deposits Than Withdrawals
The Gottman Institute finds each relationship you have with a person is like a bank account.
There are two types of transactions:
- Deposits (providing acknowledgment, doing acts of service, being kind)
- Withdrawals (making dismissive comments, saying negative things about someone, turning away from opportunities to connect)
Those with high levels of charisma focus on making deposits. This means they invest in their relationships with others rather than running them dry.
8. Check Your Body Language
As mentioned earlier, charismatic leaders have a certain confidence about them. Their body language might look like standing tall, having two feet planted on the ground, looking someone in the eye when speaking, and using their hands while communicating. Without speaking, they tell you they have high self-esteem and self-belief.
9. Avoid Burnout
Even the most charismatic people in life can fall victim to stress and burnout. If you feel fatigued and overwhelmed by work burnout, work stress, or work anxiety, press pause and take care of your physical and mental health.
Ways to do this might look like:
- Balancing introversion and extroversion by becoming more of an ambivert.
- Ensuring you get eight hours of sleep every night.
- Eating healthy meals every day.
- Exercising at least 30 minutes each morning.
- Taking time to journal, pray, express gratitude, or meditate.
- Speaking to a mentor, mental health professional, or trusted confidant about your problems.
10. Lean Into Your Natural Strengths
It’s human nature to admire extremely charismatic people who’ve experienced success. Certain qualities draw us to them. For instance, maybe they’re great at storytelling, or perhaps they’re naturally gifted at making others feel like they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.
While you might find yourself wishing you were more like these leaders in more ways than one, realize that people admire you for your gifts, too. The more you grow and develop your natural strengths, the more people will naturally gravitate toward you.
For example, Martin Luther King Jr. gave almost 450 speeches a year. It’s no wonder he became one of the world’s best public speakers capable of calling masses of people to action. It was a talent he honed and crafted.
Take some time to consider what your natural strengths are. If you’re not sure where to start, focus on communicating a distinct, clear vision of a better future. It’s one of the top traits all charismatic leaders share. Learn more about how to do this below.
The Connection Between Charisma and Vision
“If you have a charismatic cause, you don’t need a charismatic leader.”jim collins, author of good to great
As Collins points out, purpose fuels charismatic leaders. They want to create real change in the world. But to do this, they need people to join their cause. The only way to do this is by communicating their vision, or as pastor Andy Stanley describes in Visioneering, “a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.”
Vision is what makes people get out of their seats and do something about injustice because it:
- Translates into urgency and incentive.
- Defines a problem and tells people they cannot wait any longer to solve it.
The bigger the transformation you hope to make is, the bigger your vision needs to be. This might sound intimidating, but start with where you’re currently at. As you expose your vision to the outside world, it organically grows. You need critics and cynics to help it mature. Think of Moses—it took him 40 years to do this.
Aside from instigating change, vision also keeps the dark side of charismatic leadership at bay. A cult of personality can’t form when the spotlight moves off the leader and illuminates a picture of a better future.
You Can’t Fake Charisma, But You Can Grow It
Charisma isn’t about becoming something you’re not—it’s about becoming the best version of yourself. For instance, don’t try and become an extrovert if you’re naturally more introverted. Your main focus should be making others feel good about themselves and leading with a just cause. This is what will define you as a charismatic leader.
If becoming more charismatic feels impossible, start small by choosing one of the leadership qualities listed above. Practice it over the next week and then move on to another trait. In 10 weeks, you should have 10 new skills that make you more charismatic.