In business, the leaders that we recognise as being truly charismatic have the ability to walk that fine line between letting us see that they possess huge drive to be successful, whilst at the same time demonstrating an appreciation and understanding of their ethical and social responsibilities. The really interesting thing is that, in business, as in politics and sport, at the point when a charismatic leader ceases to be authentic, at the moment when he or she fails to connect at an emotional level, their charisma is lost, and the spell is broken. If an individual lacks authenticity, if they don’t mean what they say, they dilute the strength of their character and consequently the strength of their charisma. Some individuals compensate for their lack of internal and external congruency by over developing their external charm. If you try to emulate any other charismatic individual you are effectively acting and wearing a mask of charisma. Whatever external mask you choose to wear, if it doesn’t reflect the genuine, authentic ‘you’ this will automatically convey a superficial aspect to your personality. The only way to be truly charismatic is to be authentic and speak from your heart.
Heart felt communication
In our western culture, many of the leaders that I have worked with feel uncomfortable when they see that part of my charisma definition mentions ‘heart’. Many organisations already have strong and robust processes in place to build employee engagement. Leadership teams are generally good at winning the – minds – of their people. Engagement and motivation are emotional responses, an unconscious as well as conscious desire to work with heart and soul for the benefit of their leader and their organisation. When leaders cannot communicate with their heart, and find difficult to express their emotional side, they generally struggle to build engagement, and often encounter even more resistance to changed ways of working. Heartfelt communication triggers serotonin and oxytocin – chemicals that naturally increases empathy, feeling good and trust.
Charisma and the vagus nerve
There is a scientific explanation that explains why some leaders can evoke a strong positive emotional response and attract massive followship. The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves that originates in the top of the spinal cord. It activates different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling of warm expansion in the chest—for example, when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music. Neuroscientist Stephen W. Porges, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, refers to the vagus nerve as the nerve of compassion. This is because it stimulates certain muscles in the vocal chamber, enabling communication and it reduces the heart rate to promote a feeling of calm. Studies suggests that there is a connection with oxytocin, a neurotransmitter involved in trust and empathy. Consequently, the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of caretaking and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity. People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, are more likely to be altruistic, compassionate, feel gratitude, love and happiness. Genuine charisma boosts the vagus nerve activators and draws people towards them without effort in an almost unconscious manner.
Charisma requires an emotional connection
In a sense I agree with experts who say that charisma cannot be taught because charisma is an attribute that is already within us. You don’t have to become someone different to become more charismatic. When you re-connect with who you really are inside you’ll instantly light up your energy and your presence. Think about the attention a tiny baby creates. As we grow up, we learn how to play different roles that make it harder for us to remember the charisma we have inside. We wear different ‘faces’ to mask how we really feel. “I’m fine” is the biggest lie that millions of people tell every day. I once read a report about a high powered city business woman who has extensive Botox specifically so she can look neutral in meetings, fearing that her emotions may betray what she really feels inside. This struck me as intensely sad. In some corporate arenas, it’s not politically correct to show any emotion, in fact, some business people see emotion as a sign of weakness. Emotions play a far greater role in determining business outcomes across industries than many executives grasp as Gallup research continues to demonstrate. Classical economic theory states people make decisions by processing a set of objective information based on a rational economic model. Yet senior scientists in the field of behavioural economics acknowledge that human beings are not entirely rational in their decision making. Those organisations who understand the role emotions play in predicting outcomes will ultimately perform better. Charismatic leaders emotionally engage their employees because they are comfortable with engaging their own emotional responses.
Charisma evokes an emotional reaction
This is more than just an abstract theory as scientists have now proved that our heart really does rule our head. According to research, the part of the brain used for cold, hard analysis is suppressed when we hear a sad story. US Scientists scanned the brains of forty five young men and women as they solved problems, half of which required them to think about how others feel, whilst the other questions were based on physics. The scans revealed that while the participants were thinking about other people, the empathy network of the brain fired up, overriding the analytical part. The reverse occurred while they were thinking about physics. It is difficult to empathise and analyse at the same time. Charismatic leaders lead with their hearts, not just their minds. They are not afraid to show their emotions and seek to connect with their employees and followers. This does not mean charismatic leaders are soft, it simply means that they are prepared to ‘be themselves’ rather than wear a mask or play a particular role.
Charisma with compassion
Charisma is a power. It has the power to motivate millions to create massive engagement and followship. Charisma has a powerful impact on others. Do you remember the advice given to Peter Parker (Spiderman) by his Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility”? History has shown the damage that charismatic leaders with evil intent towards others can weald. Remembering who we truly are when it comes down to increasing your charisma, you don’t need to learn anything new. You simply have to feel comfortable being you, connect with your emotions and find purpose and personal meaning in your everyday work. This may sound simplistic because it takes real courage to remain fundamentally true to who we really are inside – with every individual we meet – and in every context. Years of environmental conditioning often stops us from allowing our softer and therefore, more vulnerable side to show. Once we start to honour our true self, we experience a feeling of euphoria at the sheer sensation of being alive.