Before we begin: this is the latest article in a series on modern leadership mastery. The series overview and links to previous articles can be found here.
An admission: for nearly a decade I invested a lot of time, attention, and money into my people skills, specifically charm and charisma. Mostly, I wanted pretty women to like me.
I’m a naturally shy guy and I used to obsess over what people thought of me. I wanted to be able to draw people’s attention and adoration to me like a tractor beam. My unrealized logic was that if people liked me, I would enjoy life and like myself.
Since then I’ve learned that I had the formula exactly wrong: the first step is to learn to like, or better yet, love, yourself. After that, it doesn’t really matter if people like you (but they will, I promise people will like the real you).
As a leader charm is not an essential skill, but it will make your life a lot easier. Charm is a serious catalyst and life is a lot better when people enjoy being around you and saying, “Yes” to you.
Before we dive in to connecting with your natural charisma and charisma, I want to briefly mention…
The dark side of charisma
You risk learning to hate yourself. Charm and charisma can easily act as a defense mechanism. You can make people feel so good that the positive emotion you generate with in them blinds their view of who you really are. You train people to love you without truly knowing you. That is a deeply hollow love.
Further, you run a serious risk of becoming dependent on other people’s validation. If you invest too much of your self worth into what other people think of you, you’ll effectively surrender your personal power.
When I was younger I invested a lot in getting people to love me when I didn’t love me (manipulation). It made me feel really alone. People liked a fake version of me and I was a slave to trying to make them happy.
Realize that if you develop charm and charisma instead of learning to love yourself as you are that you will be doing more harm than good in the long run.
The heart of charisma
I spent a lot of time observing and interviewing my friends and family members who were unusually charming. I wanted to know how they thought about social interactions, and what made them so wildly appealing to the people around them.
I also studied the people who had trouble forming relationships, who, for whatever reason, other people found repellant.
What I discovered is that wildly charismatic people had a markedly different mentality than the average person, and it’s that mentality that gave them the power to draw people in.
The wildly charismatic make two assumptions that average people don’t:
Assumption 1: the people I’m with are awesome. One of the more confusing attributes of social behavior is that people often behave in accordance with your expectations of them. If you assume that your friend is going to be awesome to hang out with, you’ll approach the interaction with a fresh, excited energy that will prompt your friend to be excited to hang out with you. Likewise, if you expect your friend to be late, slovenly, and aloof, there’s a good chance that he’s going to be late, slovenly, and aloof.
Whether or not we realize it, we are constantly reading and cueing off other people’s non-verbal communication, and that includes their expectations of us.
If you want to increase your charisma, start by assuming that the people you interact with are great people. Doing so will make you excited to be with them, and that will rub off on the overall interaction. It will draw them towards you because you make them feel great in your presence.
Assumption 2: I am awesome. Have you ever had someone give you a compliment but it felt slimy or manipulative instead of sincere and good, but you can’t quite figure out why? It’s likely because the person was trying to manipulate you. They gave you the compliment because they wanted you to like them, not because they wanted you to feel good.
I know this is a granular level of detail, but it matters a lot. If you depend exclusively upon the external validation of other people – especially acquaintances or strangers – to believe that you are a valuable person, you’ll end up driving them away.
To become magnetically attractive to the people around you, you have to realize that you yourself are an awesome person exactly as you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you are deeply, intrinsically worthy of love and respect.
I know that’s difficult to believe at times. A lot of different industries have invested a lot in making us feel inadequate. The easiest way to cut through this illusion is to connect deeply with who you are, and then slowly, take action on being that person (more on that here, and here).
Over time you wont need other people’s validation to know that you’re awesome. Once you’ve internalized your awesomeness, you’ll be able to genuinely delight people. It will be pure when you charm and enchant them. This will draw them in. Deeply.
The mindset behind charm and charisma accounts for the vast majority of what makes someone magnetic. However, if you want to add icing to the cake, there are a few actions that will help make you more attractive to the people in your sphere. What they all have in common is this: they pay careful attention and respect to the person you are tying to delight.
Six tricks to enhance your charisma
- Ask open ended questions that you’re interested in: one of the strongest human desires is the desire to be important. One way we know we are important, is people listen to us. When you ask an open ended question, you create space for someone to talk. When you ask an open ended question that you’re actually interested in, you’ll be interested in hearing their responses, and you’ll make them feel important.
- Open up: we are hard wired to connect with the people around us, and yet, most people remain guarded. Let people in on who you are. Share your nerdy hobby, your irrational fear, and your quirks (ukulele, heights, and trying to get my friends to feel my biceps, respectively, for me). People will be drawn in by the authenticity.
- Find something to love about the other person, and tell them. Another universal desire: we all want to be liked and loved. Find something you genuinely like about the other person (their shirt, their generosity, their biceps, whatever) and let them know. This will make them feel good and want to be around you.
- Be present: most of the time we are somewhere else. Our heads are spinning, we’re looking at our phone, we’re planning our next response. That communicates to people that they are not your priority. When you’re present with the people around you it creates a warm vibe. Do this by trying to understand them, making warm eye contact, and trying to see the world from their perspective.
- Remember details and follow-up: if you listen even just a bit, people will tell you what they are excited about and what they’re nervous about. Remember those details, and the next time you see them, ask how it went. If I’m being completely transparent I should admit that I sometimes take notes on the little things that people mention so that I don’t forget to ask later on.
- Gifts out of the blue (these don’t have to be complicated): I’m pretty bad at giving gifts, but when people give me gifts for no good reason, I get totally charmed by them. They don’t have to be complicated – a hand written card, an egg of silly putty, some homemade cookies. All of these things will make the receiver’s day.
Simply put, charm boils down to: liking people, liking yourself, thinking from the other person’s perspective, and doing a few unexpected but delightful things.
One enchanting thing about charm is that your intent dictates your results. If you charm people to manipulate them, you’ll end up sad and lonely. If you charm people simply because you want their day to be a bit better, zenfully, your day will be a bit better too and you’ll end up surrounding yourself with awesome people.
Even if you don’t care at all about being a better leader, this homework assignment is fun. It will make you and the people around you happier. Here’s your task: make one random person smile or laugh each day for a week. The more creative your approach, the better.
In my pursuit to be likeable (which was far more of an uphill battle than people realize) I read a lot on people skills. Two books stand head and shoulders above the rest and should be required reading for life:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There’s a reason this book is a classic and it’s one of fewer than 10 books that I’ve read more than twice.
- The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. If you really want to dissect the art of charisma, no book does it better. Cabane argues that charisma is a combination of power, presence, and warmth and gives you exercises to increase all three.
Photo credit: Merry Christmas!!! by Toni Blay