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Charisma Theory

Charismatic powers and force of character: definitions, understanding, developing qualities, personal presence and gravitas

Charisma is not just for movie stars. It's a behavioural quality that anyone can develop.

Think of charisma as force of character, or personal presence, or gravitas.

People with higher levels of charisma tend to be noticed, listened to, respected, and followed.

A strong charismatic personal presence is useful for leading, teaching, selling, speaking, and relationships of all sorts. Having a charismatic force of character is also useful for defending yourself and others, and for negotiating, complaining, and seeking redress - especially when directed to a higher authority or someone who thinks they're better than you.

Charismatic power is not commonly taught, but it can be.

Charismatic to the Core is the wonderful new book about authentic leadership by Nikki Owen. Nikki is an expert in charisma - in the value and meaning of charisma for life, work, leadership, etc., and also how to become more charismatic. Nikki has studied and redefined charisma to be a measurable, tangible, learnable strength. She explains and teaches charisma so that it is a deep and sophisticated view of humanity and authenticity, relevant to us all. See more at Nikki Owen's website .

The notion that charisma is 'God-given' owes much to the self-protecting ideas of the historical ruling classes. Rulers, leaders, and institutions throughout the ages tended to maintain power by convincing everyone (including themselves) that ordinary people had neither the right nor the ability to achieve any sort of greatness. To varying degrees, people in authority, and certain institutions and corporations can still be seen behaving in this exclusive arrogant way.

Charisma, and other powerful human qualities like leadership, knowledge and wisdom, were historically the preserve of the elite and those next to God - beyond the aspirations of ordinary people. Some believe this still to be so.

Meanwhile however, the modern age is making everything possible for everyone.

Most 'leaders' are now followers, chasing trends and popularity. Ordinary people achieve greatness every day. Times have changed and continue to change, away from old-style authoritarian structures and beliefs. People are ever more empowered.

In the modern age 'ordinary' people are increasingly realizing that they can achieve virtually anything they want.

Becoming charismatic - like becoming anything else you want to be - is no longer a gift from the gods, or a posh education. If you want to be charismatic, you can be.

Why charisma?

Charisma is closely related to assertiveness, which we all need, if only for defensive reasons. Charisma is not just about showing off.

Charisma enables us to influence (and inspire) others, and also to influence our external environment, which from time to time we all need to do - even the introverts among us. Time management, for example, crucially depends on managing our environment and the expectations of others.

If you want to build a business, lead a team, be a teacher or a trainer or a speaker, or maybe enter politics, then you have more reasons for developing your charismatic powers.

Charisma is not an always-on aura that only special people possess. Charisma is a force of human personality which can be understood, measured, and developed. And while some people seem more naturally charismatic than others, the truth is that anyone - given belief and effort - can develop charismatic power, either as a conscious behaviour to be used when needed, or as a deeper 'second nature'.

Charisma is useful for inspiring others, leading a team, or teaching and developing people, or being an innovator or a fund-raiser.

Charisma is also helpful for project-management, problem-solving, facilitating and pioneering.

And charisma is of course useful for all sorts of personal relationships - dating, mating, parenting, etc.

Charisma helps in any situation where you need or want to influence other people and external factors.

When you see charisma in these terms - and also as a way of understanding and controlling your own strength of character - you might also see reasons in your own life for wanting to develop some charismatic power for yourself.

Origins and definitions

The modern Oxford English Dictionary definition of charisma: "Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others."

Interestingly the word charisma hadn't made it into the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary by the 1922 edition, and not even the 1953 edition. The 'Shorter OED' is not actually 'short' - it's huge - it's the next biggest OED version to the full several-volumes-long OED which only big libraries keep. In fact the 1922 and 1953 Shorter OED listed the older words 'charism' and 'charismata' rather than charisma: "Charism - Plural charismata and charisms. 1641. A favour specially vouchsafed by God; a grace, a talent. Hence charismatic, adjective, of or pertaining to a charism."

So the word charismatic was in popular use before charisma. And charisma - which replaced charism - almost certainly grew from charismatic, which in turn logically grew from the plural charismata, originally meaning 'god-given powers'.

The English roots of charisma are in this divine sense, entering English in the mid-1600s via ecclesiastical (of the church) Latin from (according to the OED) the Greek kharisma, from kharis, meaning 'grace' or 'favour' - a favour or grace or gift given by God. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology varies slightly with the OED in suggesting that charisma replaced the earlier English spelling charism (first recorded before 1641) around 1875. The Shorter OED omissions of the word suggests that popular use of charisma instead of charism and charismata came much later than 1875. Chambers says the Greek root words are charisma and charizesthai (to show favour), from charis (favour, grace) and related to chairein, meaning rejoice, which is rather apt. According to Chambers again, the adjective charismatic appeared in English around 1882-83, from the Greek charismata, meaning favours given (by God).

Charismata (plural) and charism (singular) still exist as English word variations of charisma. These older words remain defined as: "Divinely conferred power(s) or talent(s)."

The meaning of the word charisma has moved on somewhat.

The sense of 'gift of leadership or power of authority' for charisma had developed and was in use by 1947 (first recorded).

This meaning had extended to 'strong personal appeal or magnetism', notably referring to political figures, by the 1960s.

Up to date, Wikipedia's definition/explanation of charisma (retrieved 28 August 2008) is:

"Although difficult or even impossible to define accurately (due to an abundance of wildly diverse criteria in regard to the trait), charisma is often used to describe an elusive, even undefinable personality trait that often includes the seemingly 'supernatural' or uncanny ability to lead, charm, persuade, inspire, and/or influence people. It refers especially to a quality in certain people who easily draw the attention and admiration (or even hatred if the application of such charisma is perceived to be negative) of others due to a 'magnetic' quality of personality and/or appearance. Related terms and phrases include: grace, exuberance, equanimity, mystique, positive energy, joie de vivre, extreme charm, personal magnetism, personal appeal, 'electricity', and allure, among many others. Usually many of these specific qualities must be present within a single individual for the person to be considered highly charismatic by the public and their peers. Despite the strong emotions they so often induce in others, charismatic individuals generally project unusual calmness, confidence, assertiveness, dominance, authenticity, and focus, and almost always possess superb communication and/or oratorical skills. Although the etymology of the word ('divine gift') might suggest that charisma can't be acquired, and despite the persistent inability to accurately define or even fully understand the concept, it is believed that charisma can be taught and/or learned. Others disagree with this assertion and maintain that it is an inborn trait, or acquired through growing up, and that it cannot be learned, taught, or 'gained' at will. Charisma can also be used in a negative way..." (Wikipedia, August 2008)

The concept of charisma translates across all cultures. For example, an interesting alternative word for charisma is mojo , which has very similar meanings to charisma, yet is derived from completely different roots, namely Black American creole (hybrid language), evolving from West African people.

While the origins of the word and usage of charisma imply Christian religious connections, this mainly reflects how historically people sought to explain intangible concepts. As the world has become more able to explain things scientifically and factually, associations between charisma and godly gifts have become largely obsolete, except among strongly religious people.

Similarly, as with leadership, notions that charismatic qualities are inborn are not easy to substantiate. There are many examples of people who develop charisma through training and/or experience, like the many who develop qualities of leadership.

Developing charisma

While the specialised approach to the development of charisma is relatively recent, the generalised or related approach to the development of charisma is extremely old, although in such cases it would not have been labelled 'charisma'.

Historically the generalised/related development of charisma has been as a by-product of leadership or stage performance, or oration (public speaking) of some sort. This perhaps explains why historically charismatic people have tended to be actors, stage performers, and leaders.

One could argue that these people have become successful in their fields because of charismatic appeal, which is to an extent true, but charisma here is mostly an effect, rather than a cause. The main point is that charismatic people tend to come from these backgrounds, and there is a reason for this.

Training and/or experience in effective emotional communications - with all that this term implies - is the key to developing charisma. Each of the three words contains several implications and an underpinning principle:

  • effective - engaging, relevantly targeted, inspiring, confident
  • emotional - passionate, empathic, two-way (the charismatic person feels and reflects the feelings of others)
  • communications - beyond words alone ( body language and expressive style are crucial)
  • underpinning this is self-confidence and belief in respect of the purpose and area/audience being engaged.

Charisma is not a matter of fame and celebrity. Charisma is definitely not something which comes automatically to every famous person. We can all think of countless famous people and celebrities who have zero charisma. Many famous people have charisma, but fame is not what makes charisma.

Charisma is first a learned or acquired capability. It is then logically an enabling quality, which in many cases is then self-fuelling through experience and the (conscious or unconscious) refinement of techniques, and the growth of confidence (self, and others in relation to the charismatic person).

A general or related approach to developing charisma has long been present in the schooling of actors and stage performers. Aspects of charisma have also featured for centuries in the teaching of public speaking. Leadership training has also for many years included personal development which tends to advance some of the key elements of charisma, but none of these various sorts of training traditionally focus on developing charisma specifically.

As much as any other reason this is because charisma has not until recently been regarded as a quality that is attainable and useful for 'ordinary' people.

Among those who've attempted to analyse charisma in terms of measurable and 'developable' elements is British personal development expert Nikki Owen, who has built a behavioural learning model around the concept of charisma.

Regular visitors to this website might recognize Nikki Owen as the brain behind the excellent Sales Activator sales training system. She has applied similar innovation, rigour and passion to her latest work on charisma.

The intriguing paper, An Audience with Charisma , details Ms Owen's accessible and practical approach to understanding and developing charisma.

Elements of charisma

Many and various other models of charisma exist, which testify to the growing acceptance that charisma is not 'God-given' or inborn; instead it is a behavioural quality that anyone can develop.

Broadly these models focus on similar things: Using effective speech and body language ; being confident, genuine and individual; making people feel good; and being passionate or enthusiastic about your (ideally worthy) aims or views.

Here for instance is a summary of the main points of the charisma development model collectively formulated on the wikihow website , (as at September 2008). Note this model also states that everyone is able to develop charismatic power.

  1. Relax (meditate if helpful).
  2. Look confident (by feeling confident, having positive confident body language, and behaving as an equal to others).
  3. Get in touch with your emotions (and with other people's).
  4. Be genuine.
  5. Match your body language to your speech (this tends to happen naturally if you are being genuine).
  6. Think before you speak (less is more - silence is fine when you have nothing to say).
  7. Speak with conviction (including the way you say things, facial expressions, body language - see Mehrabian's theory )
  8. Treat people as they want to be treated (notably listen actively and make others people feel special).

Other points:

  • Charisma must come from within you as an individual - individuality is vital.
  • Everyone can be charismatic.
  • Have a message, which can be controversial.
  • Acting and toastmaster classes help.
  • Be honest and bold, but don't offend people.
  • Charisma used for wrong reasons tends not to succeed.

Nikki Owen: charisma development model

Nikki Owen has studied charisma for many years in the context of personal development. Her particular skill is creating effective learning methods, and she brings this special perspective the challenge of understanding and developing personal charisma.

As we know, there are many and various definitions of charisma. However to develop a personal skill or capability - especially a behavioural quality - we need more than a definition. We need measurable elements. We also need benchmarks or standards, and methods of measuring actual levels of performance in each element, before and after intervention (development or learning activities). Most challengingly, we need the methods of improving the elemental capabilities which together make up the whole behavioural quality that we are attempting to develop. Nikki Owen's model seems to have these components.

Charisma elements - Nikki Owen

Nikki Owen defines charisma by way of five significant personal attributes, summarised briefly here. Her development model is able to measure and develop each of these elements. As such she seems to have devised a logical, predictable and reliable way to understand, measure and develop personal charisma.

1. High Self-Esteem - in other words self-confidence, inner-calm, self-reliance, independence.

Charismatic people have high self-esteem - which can be particular to an environment. This conveys confidence and authenticity. When you have high self-esteem you are relaxed about exposing your true self. Levels of self-esteem can vary with situation, so this element is one of several which is contextual. Self-esteem, and thereby charisma, can vary according to situation.

2. A Driving Force - in other words purpose, personal values, principles.

Charismatic people have an underlying sense of purpose, a set of values - principles important to them - which drive their decisions and actions. Values and purpose help drive and motivate behaviour consistently and strongly, which others see to be dynamic and enthusiastic. A strong driving force can also be contextual. Many people are strongly driven and charismatic in a certain direction or field, but not in others.

3. Sensory Awareness - in other words empathy , emotional intelligence (EQ)

Charismatic people are aware of their own feelings and the feelings and moods of others. They are in touch with their emotions and are uninhibited about showing them. This makes them expressive and compelling in the way they communicate and engage with others.

4. A Vision - in other words visualization, belief , mental picture, positive attitude towards aim.

Charismatic people have a strong vision of what they want. This is different to driving force or purpose. The point here is the mental vision of the purpose. To imagine and believe the aim - to see it happening in your mind. This creates a strong energy of intent that others can feel, and often see and hear too. Positive attitudes help produce results. Having a strong mental picture of your aims tends to reinforce your own actions and the responses and actions of others in the direction of the vision.

5. High Energy - in other words passion, enthusiasm, commitment, determination.

Exhibiting high personal positive energy builds and maintains a positive energetic response in others. Positive energy makes others feel good. They become energised, feel valued and productive, and so respond even more strongly to the source - the charismatic person.

Nikki Owen's Charisma Elements Model is © Nikki Owen and Performance Practitioners Ltd 2008, and is used with permission.

Details of Nikki Owen's charisma development model is available in the paper An Audience with Charisma , which explains Nikki Owen's research and theory, and also introduces her charisma development workshop.

You can also learn more about her approach at her website of the same name, which includes a free online charisma profiling tool.

Businessballs does not receive a commission for recommending Nikki Owen's concept.

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