Why Charisma Matters in College and Your Career

Why Charisma Matters in College and Your Career

When you consider the word “˜charisma’ – what comes to mind? Do you think of a particular world leader, a manager at work, or a professor who was a dynamic speaker? It is a word that denotes a positive quality, a sense of self-confidence and resilience. But for many, it is also a quality that seems to be beyond their reach – something that people are born with, not something to be developed.

How you portray yourself, as a student or as an employee, has a direct influence on how others perceive you and how they will respond to you. This also determines how willing others will be to listen to your ideas and work with you on a project or collaborate with you during a discussion because of how you have portrayed yourself.

You’ll discover that charisma involves more than demonstrating a positive attitude. It is an external reflection of your internal self-talk, and includes what you think about yourself – projected through body language and communication. Once you learn the components that make up a charismatic personality, you can begin to develop your own winning style.

Benefits and Types of Charisma

In the article, Cultivating Charisma: How Personal Magnetism Can Help (Or Hurt) You at Work, it was noted that when someone is perceived as being charismatic they are more likely to be trusted. In the workplace, charismatic individuals receive higher performance ratings, better salaries, and more promotions than those without a charismatic personality. For students, this can translate into productive working relationships, stronger performance, and better grades. Researchers have determined that charisma is a social skill, which means it can be learned. It may appear to be an inherent trait or characteristic as those who possess it have learned or mastered it early in life and by the time they are adults it is a natural process for them to use.

The article also shared insights from Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, who identified four types of charisma. The first is “focus charisma,” which means that the person is able to remain focused on what someone is saying and listen closely. The second is “authority charisma,” which has to do with power – commanding the attention and compliance of others. The third type is “visionary charisma” or a personality and presence that inspire creativity and brainstorming. Finally, there is “kindness charisma” and that is a person who encourages the heart through their words and actions. As you review each of the charismatic personality types, can you identify people who fit those descriptions? Are you able to recognize qualities you possess that demonstrate charisma?

Introverts versus Extroverts

Students often equate a charismatic personality with someone who is highly extroverted by nature. This is actually not the case. You also do not have to be an extrovert to find success in your career. Adam M. Grant, associate professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has found that “amid the uncertainty created by the increased pace of innovation and globalization, it’s probably better to be an introverted leader now than at any previous time on record.” Where charisma matters is in your ability to connect with others in a meaningful way. You can learn to develop a charismatic personality, just as many influential leaders have done. Steve Jobs is an example. While he had a carefully cultivated public persona, he was considered by many to be an introvert in private.

How you speak and the presence you establish are the determining factors for your interactions with others, in class or on the job. Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, relates a charismatic presence to the way that others in the room feel about you as you speak, whether you are interacting during class discussions or giving a presentation. Riggio has identified four specific elements that are needed: 1) genuinely expressing emotions, 2) reading and responding to the emotional signals of others, 3) maintaining a controlled emotional tone, and 4) maintaining self-control in social settings. All of these can be learned – no matter if you are an introvert or extrovert.

Personal Charisma Qualities

If you want to assess your current level of charisma to determine your strengths and potential areas of opportunity, there are two helpful guides you can use. Consider the last time you were involved in a class discussion or gave a presentation and use each guide as a checklist.

The first is a list provided in 5 Qualities of Charismatic People. How Many Do You Have?:
1. Self-confidence. If you portray or exude the appearance of having confidence in your abilities, it will be evident in your actions and people will respond positively to you.
2. A great storyteller. Use phrases that project your sense of conviction, such as “I’m certain” throughout your communication.
3. Positive body language. You want to indicate that you are approachable and accessible.
4. Effective conversationalist. Put the focus of attention on the person you are speaking to.
5. A good listener. Pay attention and are fully engaged in the conversation.

Another guide that presents components of personal charisma can be found in Charisma: What Is It? Do You Have It?:
1. Emotional elements: A person who appears charismatic can express their emotions, make an emotional connection with others, recognize and control their emotions.
2. Social elements: A person who is perceived as having charisma will be able to engage effectively with others in social settings, listen closely to them, and demonstrate poise – even when confronted with disagreements or challenges.

How to Become Charismatic

Once you understand the elements needed for an authentic, charismatic personality, you can create an action plan for those areas that need development. Author Olivia Fox Cabane recommends the following strategies:
“¢ Get in the mood. This involves being prepared. You will likely feel more confident about yourself if you have prepared ahead of time and if you feel good, that will be reflected in your attitude and disposition.
“¢ Choose your style. There are times when being a visionary is beneficial for group work and focus is needed for in-class activities. The point is that you do not want to be perceived as rigid and inflexible.
“¢ Listen carefully. Another way to state this is to listen with intent. Take time to consider the other person’s perspective.
“¢ Be aware of feelings. This is when a well-developed emotional intelligence will be of benefit to you.
“¢ Mirror body language. Consider how others will develop a perception about you based upon what they observe. You want to appear interested, rather than bored, if you want them to respond the same way to you.

In the following video, Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. describes charisma as personal magnetism or charm, and it is projected through body language. Goman shares two strategies to portraying charisma, especially if you are not comfortable with it and have not fully learned this skill.

The first strategy shared by Goman is “The Method” or a form of acting. The premise is to remember positive emotions previously felt and use that to set an internal stage. Act now the way you felt then. It is a way to increase your sense of self-empowerment. The second strategy is “Powerful Postures” and by holding a strong stance you will portray confidence and charm. Both of these strategies can be used to overcome any initial feelings of anxiety you may have about talking to a group or even participating in class.

By examining what it means to be charismatic, it will help to remove any barriers you may feel when you see others who appear confident, poised, and actively engaged in class. This is a skill that anyone can learn, regardless of how introverted or extroverted you are by nature. You can consider it to be your public persona. It is a matter of learning how to be engaged with others and build connections, while having a well-developed emotional and social intelligence. You will find that it has a positive impact on your interactions in any social setting, especially as college student.

You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

Photo © Les and Dave Jacobs/cultura/Corbis

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