Growing up, I was painfully shy. I struggled in new situations when I was around people I didn’t know. I didn’t speak up until I was about 10. Somewhere along the way I decided it would cost me too much to stay uncomfortable and invisible and I put myself out there.
Today, as the founder of a firm that develops Fortune 500 CEOs, managers, entrepreneurs and their teams into strong communicators -- helping them to make connections, earn trust and build influence -- I have learned one thing they have in common. They all covet charisma and executive presence. The question they always ask is “Can you learn how to have presence and charisma?”
My early struggle with shyness has been a gift, as I know these things can be learned. This type of learning feels less risky for some. But for me and many of the executives I have worked with, this process of learning has been something of a reinvention.
The 20th century celebrated business people with turbo-extroversion. Charisma doesn’t fit neatly into that box. It’s not about personality style, professional title or economic status. Researchers at MIT have figured out that connecting with people is what generates charisma. You don’t show up and spew charisma as a solo act. It’s actually a social skill, which like many others is learned. Here are six tips on how to access charisma:
1. Be attentive. Attention is the electrical current that connects us. It’s unattractive to be distracted when others are speaking, leading a meeting or just trying to have a conversation.The ability to notice when your mind wanders and redirect your thoughts back into the present moment is a leadership habit that takes constant practice.
2. Recognize humanness before rank. Leaders who prioritize the human connection are perceived to be more trustworthy than those who believe that their reputation should precede them. It doesn’t take long to look someone in the eye. I don’t mean the quick ping of making eye contact. People know when you only glance and quickly look past them, absorbed in your own mental agenda. I mean the feeling that someone has taken a moment to see who’s within.
3. Draw people out. Charisma is measured by your ability to release others into a more enjoyable state of communicating. You do this by being curious, asking questions, listening and being positive. Upbeat people who are sincerely interested in what other people have to say have natural charisma -- and they are successful in negotiations and presentations. You have a serious handicap in conversation if you are not curious about the other person.
4. Notice your second language. Some of the most important nonverbal signals for connection are using a warm tone of voice, exhibiting friendly facial expression, displaying open gestures and standing near and fully facing others. Even a warm handshake can trigger a connection.
5. Show strength in your vulnerability. Most of the executives who come to my studio don’t trust themselves to use their own experience and wisdom to connect with people. They are surprised to learn that they’ve have everything they need to be an authentic leader. The language of sharing a personal story is a medium for human connection. The ability to empower others by sharing what your life has taught you is an important part of authentic leadership.
6. Never try to fake it. The attempt to manipulate a connection is much more transparent than you would like to think. The brain knows incongruence in a millisecond. First and foremost, be a student. The real work of life is going within and developing your own self-awareness.
Related: When Ego Is the Enemy