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How to be charismatic


Can you teach someone charm or are you born with that certain je ne sais quoi? Mark Walsh argues that anyone can be taught the ‘X Factor.’

Charisma, personal presence, gravitas, magnetism, 'that special something,' there are many ways of talking about the elusive quality that some leaders have which makes people want to follow them. Charisma is a crucial factor for success and without it Obama would not have been elected. And if he had it, Gordon Brown may be having an easier time today.

In a business context charisma can have a huge bottom-line impact due to its effect on the performance of individuals, teams and organisations. But what exactly is this crucial and seemingly magical quality? Where does it come from, and more practically, can it be learned? My answer to the final question is yes.

Mark Walsh"Charisma is a learnable set of skills which can be built and, when embodied, become a highly desirable characteristic"

A brief internet search will tell you that the word charisma comes from the Greek "kharisma" - meaning "gift," or "favored by God” and is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.” An in-depth search of the literature will turn up some material on what exactly constitutes charisma, but less useful material on how to develop it. Rather than split hairs on definitions, I would like to identify some of its components and offer some practical tips on what to do if you’d like some more of it yourself.

Projection vs. charisma

There is a distinction between projected authority and charisma. Some people appear impressive because you know of their social status and project this onto them. Charismatic people on the other hand come across as impressive from the moment you meet them, even if you know nothing about them.

Health, energy and appearance

The basis of charisma is health. Charismatic people need not have perfect smiles or gym bodies, but they do have a vitality and abundance of life. They also nearly always manage their appearance well. Perhaps it is animal instinct to follow healthy individuals.

The role of the body

Charisma is an embodied quality. I say this as it is apparent from the moment an individual walks into a room and is the same across cultures. The vocal style and choice of words of course makes a huge impact (Obama also has a great speech writer), but the basis is embodied. When I say embodied, I mean charisma is conveyed by posture and movement and tends to make charismatic individuals attractive in all senses of the word.

Connection to a higher vision

Charismatic individuals seem connected to a bigger driving force beyond their own gain. Obama inspires hope through his sense of vision and purpose (as did Blair and Thatcher). Brown does not appear to be communicating how he might be in touch with a larger “for the sake of what?”

Self esteem

Charismatic individuals like themselves and have high levels of grounded confidence.


The ability to focus your attention is a key skill for leaders and the ability to be completely present adds to someone’s personal presence. As a friend once said about the Dali Lama: “Even though there were 30,000 people in the stadium you felt like he was talking to you personally.”

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a crucial part of charisma. Awareness of emotions and the ability to manage moods are key skills for charismatic leaders, as is empathy for others. Charisma listens gently as well as booming confidence.


Ghandi and JFK were both charismatic in their own ways. Both were attractive as much because of their uniqueness, as well as because of their strengths in all the areas outlined above.

Charisma is a learnable set of skills which can be built and which, when embodied, become a highly desirable characteristic.

Ten Top Charisma Tips

Some people seem to be born with charisma. But I would disagree as in my experience most of these people have had the inclination and the opportunity to practise and develop the relevant skills until they become embodied. True, there are no quick fixes to becoming more charismatic, only a number of areas to pay attention to and in which to develop good practices. Here are some top practical tips on how to be more charismatic:

1. Get in touch with the bigger vision that drives you and remind yourself of this daily – for example, it might be a relevant quote or photo on your desk.

2. Maintain good health and vitality – this includes good sleep, exercise, recreation and diet.

3. Manage your posture – be grounded and connected to your dignity, take up your space in the world and be aware of both where you’re going and where you come from. See the pioneering work of Dr Richard Strozzi-Heckler in the US and Embodied Management Training in the UK.

4. Learn to connect with your own feelings and listen to others - Non Violent Communication is a system I particularly recommend.

5. Find out what builds your self-esteem on a deep level and develop this. Match your actions to your core values.

6. Develop courage by doing what you’re scared of. Build a practice of confidence.

7. Learn to relax under pressure and practice (I strongly recommend improvisation classes.)

8. Work with your voice to improve clarity and speak with conviction – singing, acting and breathing work will help.

9. Develop a mindfulness practice such as meditation to train your attention.

10. Develop greater embodied intelligence with movement arts such as aikido, dance or yoga.

Mark Walsh is the UK pioneer of Embodied Management Training and the lead trainer at business training providers Integration Training. He is an associate member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and delivers bespoke course and one-on-one business coaching for Integration Training.

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