by Grace aka costofcollege

What are the components to charisma?

Charismatic behavior can be broken down into three core elements: presence, power, and warmth.

When people describe their experience of seeing a charismatic person in action, whether Bill Clinton or the Dalai Lama, they often mention the individual’s extraordinary “presence.” Presence turns out to be a core component of charisma, the foundation upon which all else is built.

But if presence is the foundation on which charisma rests, power and warmth are the stuff of which it is built….

You need all three to be charismatic, but the degree of each determines the kind of charisma you have….

You can become more charismatic.

Stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla, speak like a preacher….

Learn more:

How to Master the Art and Science of Charisma

Do you agree with the components listed in the quote, or would you describe it differently?  Are you charismatic?  Do you work on it?  In what specific ways have you seen charisma benefit someone?  Who is the most charismatic person you personally know?  Can you teach your children to be more charismatic?  What suggestions would you have for someone trying to be more charismatic?


101 thoughts on “Charisma

  1. I have Resting Bitchface, so I don’t think charisma is ever going to be mine.

  2. I think like anything you can improve it some extent, but either charisma comes naturally or it doesn’t. I’m never going to be as charismatic as President Obama

  3. Ooh, that’s attractive. lol

    I’ve known people who worked on it and seemed to significantly improve their charisma. They were in sales. IIRC, LBJ worked on himself and improved from his younger days. He worked on his voice, believe it or not, and his manner of engaging people.

  4. I suspect you can learn to be more charismatic like anything else, but I think really charismatic people are more inclined to learn those behaviors at younger ages, whereas most people really only start thinking about it when they start their careers and have to network. Politicians probably are more charismatic because it tends to draw people that are interested in using charisma for power and influence.

    The most charismatic person I know IRL is a good friend that DH used to work with. He then did a stint at McKinsey and then on to a corporate career where he’s done very well. If he ever had imposter syndrome he’s gotten over it or at least projects that he has. He’s also probably one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met but also a really quick wit. Wide variety of interests so he can talk to a lot of different people with ease.

  5. Interesting to see how opinions differ between calculus and charisma here on The Totebag. Both are skills that are valuable and learnable but one gets a “move heaven and earth to obtain” the other gets a meh…

  6. I think the most charismatic people I know have very little fear of being awkward and an intense need to be admired. I think you can work on the fear of awkwardness quite a bit.

    My very charismatic college friend (owns several gym-type businesses, is constantly selling and is quite successful), started coaching his kids from a young age. Look people in the eye when you speak, order your own food at the restaurant, open a conversation with a compliment (seriously – his three year olds have done this all well). So his kids will be NMSF level charismatic, likely a combination of nature and nurture.

  7. I didn’t realize until a few years ago that charisma is a thing to therapists, the same way IQ or other traits are. A therapist mentioned it in a description of my son, in a paragraph of facts. I thought it looked out of place so said something about about the compliment. She corrected me and explained that it isn’t just a fuzzy, nebulous thing, but has a real, specific meaning. I can’t repeat it exactly here, just that it seemed different from saying something like the person is polite or other things that are open to interpretation and can be learned.

  8. I think charisma is one of the defining characteristics of psychopaths? Or maybe that is just a pop culture thing. (Of course, not all charismatic people are psychopaths…)

  9. I do think charisma is important along with calculus. Both DH and I talk to our kids about personality aspects on a regular basis. We prepare the kids (coach) and give feedback. If they have an option to present their work, we tell them to take it and they prepare by walking through it in front of us. Many times, they will giggle as they present at home but I think standing up and speaking in front of an audience is important.

  10. I think it is easier to teach someone calculus than charisma. Think about Hillary. She lived with a master for years, and has a Totebagger’s penchant for hard work and preparation and knows full well that charisma is key for politicians. Bill doesn’t even have to try at this point.
    JFK spent several months in a hospital when he was 3. The nurses at the time commented on his ability, even when very sick, to draw people to himself.

  11. I dunno, I have met so few charismatic people in my life that I can’t really correlate it to success. Most of the really successful people I know personally are nice, friendly, kind of boring people. A good example is the CEO of the hedge fund where my DH works, someone who is on the Forbes list of top N wealthy people. He is a total dud socially. He is in the news every so often, and even in the news, he is dull. Think Bloomberg with a southern accent.
    The few really charismatic people I have known have ended up with disastrous personal lives.

  12. Some people like Bill Clinton have natural charisma but others can improve so that they don’t present themselves as wet blankets.
    Hillary at some level is compared to Bill on the charisma aspect and that is the thing people can’t articulate when they say that she is not accessible.

  13. Scarlett,

    I think it is easier to teach someone calculus than charisma.

    You realize that what you’re saying is probably the exact opposite of what Ada’s friend would say.

    JFK spent several months in a hospital when he was 3. The nurses at the time commented on his ability, even when very sick, to draw people to himself.

    Saac’s son taught himself to read, WCE’s husband taught himself differential equations in an afternoon. If it doesn’t come naturally, you should still try.

  14. “I have Resting Bitchface, so I don’t think charisma is ever going to be mine.”

    I tend to go that way, and I have tried to modify my facial expression to one that’s more friendly. I actually try to practice while driving. I think a RBF makes me look older, so that was really the impetus to try to change it.

  15. “I have tried to modify my facial expression to one that’s more friendly”
    And believe me it’s not easy to find a good balance between goofy grinning and surly gloomy, so that’s why I have to practice in a mirror!

  16. Coc/RMS – my grandma told us never to have a frowny face when in repose because it gave us wrinkles in the wrong places. I still remember this !

  17. What I think of as charisma is not really what you guys are discussing. There is a difference between being warm/friendly, etc, and being charismatic. A person with charisma has power. He or she owns the room, and can get people to do things easily. Rock stars have charisma. Bill Clinton has charisma.
    My mother was incredibly warm and made friends really easily, She was always bringing home new friends, and loved to have dinner parties, outings, or just hang out playing penny poker with her friends. But she also was the anti-charismatic. She always joked about going into small stores, and just being ignored. She called it “being beige”. I think beigeness is the opposite of charisma. Most of what I see you guys discussing are the qualities my mother had – ease with people, friendliness, an ability to tell little jokes and have them come off the right way. Boy, I wish I could have learned some of it from her. But she didn’t have that power that comes with true charisma

  18. Louise, Botox takes care of some of that. I try to smile and look pleasant and approachable, but it ain’t easy. It’s a big difference between my sister and me. She’s got the kind of face that causes strangers to sit down next to her and tell her their problems, greatly to Sis’s annoyance.

  19. Hillary Clinton being unlikable is one of those things that is put out there by people who have never found a powerful woman likable. Maybe she isn’t as charismatic as Bill, but everyone I know who has met her (and it is more than a few people) finds her incredibly warm and charismatic.

    There was that secret service guy and his dog who really really hated her, so there’s that.

  20. “There is a difference between being warm/friendly, etc, and being charismatic.”

    Yes, and the author touches on it.

    High power, low presence low warmth is authority charisma. Colin Powell has that.
    High presence, lower power low warmth is called focus charisma. Bill gates actually has charisma in that respect.
    A good example of someone who leads with high warmth is the Dalai Lama.

  21. “Maybe she isn’t as charismatic as Bill, but everyone I know who has met her (and it is more than a few people) finds her incredibly warm and charismatic. ”

    But even many of her admirers agree she doesn’t come across that way in her public personae.

  22. “There was that secret service guy and his dog who really really hated her, so there’s that.”

    It’s a lot more than one person and a dog. There are many people who have encountered her from positions of service and have found her to be loathsome.

  23. “What I think of as charisma is not really what you guys are discussing. There is a difference between being warm/friendly, etc, and being charismatic. A person with charisma has power. He or she owns the room, and can get people to do things easily. ”

    I completely agree. I think it is a totally different thing from having good social skills, which is what I think is being described more than anything. I think good social skills can and SHOULD be taught and practiced, but I don’t know if the kind of presence and ownership of a room that I think of as true charisma can be taught.

  24. To me there is a difference between Hillary Clinton and say Sheryl Sanderg. Both are powerful women. Both are smart. But Sheryl seems approachable enough where you feel you can go talk to her.

  25. But even many of her admirers agree she doesn’t come across that way in her public personae.

    I wonder how much is just her voice? Deval Patrick is very Obama like but he has a high nasal voice that seems to have taken him out of contention for President. Bobby Jindal’s career aspirations ended when he gave the Republican response to The State of the Union and everyone noticed that he sounds exactly like the Ken Parcell character from 30 Rock.

  26. “Nigella Lawson” — What role does sex appeal play in her charisma? Based on the men I know who like her, I think that’s part of it.

  27. I had a boss that I would say had charisma. He was exceedingly tall and gregarious, so had a real presence about him, but he also could really connect with people. I changed jobs to follow him, and talked to him several times a year for the years after he left our company. I interviewed with his current employers a couple of times because I was considering following him again. In the end I chose not to give up the work from home situation that I had to follow him, but all things being equal I would have followed him anywhere. He had that sort of effect on people, and picked up devoted friends from all sorts of hobbies and things he did in life. He died within the last couple years and I’m told that there were hundreds of people in the street outside the church because there was not enough room inside. He really inspired people in a way I have not seen in anyone else I’ve come in contact with.

    I agree that those qualities are different than just having a good social skills. One of my siblings has a huge network of people that seem to be extremely fond of him. But that is more related to him being just a very nice person and funny and welcoming to strangers, but I would still not describe it as charismatic.

    I agree that it is very important to be comfortable speaking in front of people. My son mentioned that someone from Toastmasters came to their high school promoting it. He is someone who is not comfortable at all speaking in front of people, so I am currently mulling over some sort of offer of something he wants if he is willing to do Toastmasters for a set amount of time. Has anyone had any experience with it?

  28. “Has anyone had any experience with it?”

    In college, it wasn’t Toastmasters, but we had to do some public speaking workshops in small groups that were facilitated by this woman who had been or was one of the coaches for “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

    I really don’t remember much of what we did, but I remember liking it at the time.

  29. MBT – I know people at work who have taken Toastmasters and liked it. Essentially a lot of public speaking is preparation and practice which you have to take the opportunity/effort to do whenever you can after the course is over.

  30. Probably part of charisma is behaving how people want/expect. Bill Clinton seems charismatic when his personal warmth and power projection are welcome, but the women who rejected his sexual advances presumably didn’t welcome his charisma in that time/place.

    The post on Hillary didn’t consider female leaders in other countries and minimally considered U.S. women in other positions of leadership, for example, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The article forced me to ask myself why I respect/like Ginsburg, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Golda Meir and I don’t respect/like HRC.

    Ginsburg seems to advocate for equal treatment (not equal outcomes) under law and has used male plaintiffs and increased expectations for women when their status “advantaged” them, i.e. in a case where women only served on juries when they volunteered but men were obligated. The only doctrine that she has supported (still supports?) is that of comparable worth for mostly male/female jobs, which I disagree with only because I trust the market more than the government to make that value judgment over time.

    DS1’s preschool teacher said he was a “positive leader”. He relates well to peers and provides leadership on the robotics team. He is shy around adults and so would be the opposite of charismatic in that situation.

  31. I would say Margaret Thatcher was charismatic. “You can turn if you want to. The lady is not for turning.” and all that.

  32. Sexual predators often claim their victims by grooming them and making them feel special and understood. Successful politicians are similarly described as having the ability to focus their attention on one person, making that person feel that he or she is the only person in the room. But people who met St John Paul II or Mother Teresa said the same thing. Malcolm Muggeridge introduced Mother Teresa to the world in 1971 with his book and film “Something Beautiful for God.” He was completely captivated by this tiny homely woman, though he was not a Catholic and didn’t really grasp her mission. The book is amazing to read now as he clearly saw her sanctity. Trying to come up with a charismatic woman and that is the first name I thought of.

  33. I am trying to think of some charismatic women. Although I love her, I don’t think RBG is at all. Nor is HRC or Angela Merkel. Michelle Obama has some charisma going on. I think the issue is that charisma is very much tied to traits that successful men have. Women who are successful often get there by other means. They build relationships and coalitions. For women, I think it can be a very hard needle to thread. Charisma often is seen as sex appeal, which doesn’t translate well to power positions with women.

  34. I had the chance to hear RBG speak and ask a question from the audience when she was here over their break some years back, and I would say she was focused and intense, but she didn’t strike me as especially charismatic. The person I’ve met who most had that really magnetic sort of charisma was a jazz musician, Illinois Jacquet, who once visited my college and hung out and chatted with us in the band room for a while. Several of us, all young women, were hanging on his every word so much that the young men were making awkward jokes about it . . . he was an old guy, and not so famous that we’d necessarily heard about him beforehand, and while his reminiscences about his lifetime in jazz were very interesting, beyond that there was just something very compelling about him.

    I do think the article is talking about something different from that sort of charisma. But perhaps it really is all on the same spectrum, and like with good looks, you may not ever be able to turn heads when you walk into a room but you can still make the best of what you’ve got.

  35. Interesting question: Do female leaders not have charisma or does female charisma look different from male charisma? It seems to depend on one’s definition of charisma and a whole host of male/female social issues.

    Is Kate Middleton charismatic, or has she learned to be because of her role?

  36. I don’t think Kate Middleton is charismatic at all. Either naturally or because she has learned to be so. I think she is elegant and appropriate.

  37. The feminine form of charisma has probably been more associated historically with social leaders and famous beauties / celebrities than with political leaders.

  38. I don’t think Kate Middleton is charismatic. She has been trained/trained herself for her public role very well.

  39. Even Cleopatra is better remembered for her feminine wiles than her political acumen.

  40. I had a speech class in 10th grade, and now that I think about it, not another one until business school (along with a few presentation workshops). So MBT, I would encourage your son to take advantage of the Toastmasters opportunity. That said, I have only ever been to one Toastmasters meeting, and I thought it was a bit weird and formal. Each speaker was supposed to shake hands with the designated MC before and after her speech. Why? I don’t see that in real life at events.

  41. I did Toastmasters in my twenties and it definitely helped me with public speaking, but alas, not with charisma. The group was supportive and it was easy to accept the feedback.

    I think of Margaret Thatcher as charismatic, and maybe Suzi Orman. But offhand I can’t think of charismatic female business leaders.

  42. Michelle Obama has charisma. She’s a combination of strength and charm, which is appealing. And warmth. Also, physical presence can be enhanced by height and overall body features, and she has that going on.

  43. She married Western Pennsylvania steel manufacturer and engineer George Mesta in 1916, but was widowed in 1925; she was the only heir to his $78 million fortune ($1.05 billion today).

    Sure beats working for a living.

  44. Comments, including HM’s, made me think of what roles charismatic women may have played in history. I suspect salonnières, hetaira and some priestesses were charismatic.

  45. Think of women in broadcasting – many of those could be described as charasmatic – Katie Couric, Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales, Kelly Ripa.

    I agree about Michelle Obama.

    I am probably fairly described as charismatic, particularly in a work/professional setting, although it feels like a brag to say that. It’s definitely a skill set/act for me, that I developed consciously.

    Also, women with cooking shows – Ina Garten, Rachael Ray – I would probably describe their public persona as charismatic.

    And, women in music – Jennifer Lopez comes to mind.

    The principal of our kids’ elementary is the very definition of charismatic in my mind. Outgoing, warm, but authoritative and a large presence.

  46. WCE,

    I think many of the most charismatic are unknown as they were forced by convention to exercise their power through a husband, son or lover.

    Then you have some who tired of exercising power through a surrogate:

    She left the palace and departed for the Ismailovsky regiment, where Catherine delivered a speech asking the soldiers to protect her from her husband. Catherine then left with the regiment to go to the Semenovsky Barracks where the clergy was waiting to ordain her as the sole occupant of the Russian throne. She had her husband arrested and forced him to sign a document of abdication, leaving no one to dispute her accession to the throne.

  47. Mooshi,

    I left you a question on Tuesday’s thread. Answer or ignore as you prefer.

  48. women with cooking shows

    That’s right, Julia Child was said to have a magnetic personality.

  49. I always think of charisma as a larger than life quality – the original meaning is gift from the gods – not just a useful skill set that can be learned. A charismatic leader is one that can inspire (or delude) you into doing something that you would not have done or perhaps not even considered doing if he/she had not presented the challenge or opportunity to you. That can be on a public scale noble (Peace Corps), horrid (Kristallnacht). Think about charismatic preachers or self help gurus – some inspire the listeners to better lives and good works, others just increase their personal bank accounts and feed off the adulation. One might argue that it is a matter of degree – good salespeople and group leaders have qualities associated with charisma, but I am enough of a pedant to prefer my words to retain a fairly narrow meaning.

  50. “I am trying to think of some charismatic women.

    First person I thought of too.

  51. Julia Child is a good example! Though I do love Ina, I don’t think she is charismatic at all. What about Martha Stewart? Kind of an ice queen and very dignified (even with the prison stuff!), but probably lacking charisma.

  52. Rocky, are you still around?

    Others might be able to help too.

    I’m applying to be on the board for the local library, and part of the application is a SWOT analysis. I need to brainstorm tonight (been a while since I’ve done one of these). It isn’t due yet, but I want to go ahead and email it tomorrow and get this item off my plate. Thought you guys might have some good ideas for opportunities and threats facing public libraries.

  53. I think Oprah is a good example, Rhett.

    Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel

    Jane Fonda

    Pamela Churchill Harriman.

    Those are the women who started with reasonable good looks and managed to draw the rich, famous guys in force.

  54. I’m applying to be on the board for the local library, and part of the application is a SWOT analysis.

    I’d ask how much I have to donate to not have to do the SWOT analysis.

  55. But of course, Honolulu. That’s probably the main reason I know about her.

  56. “I agree that it is very important to be comfortable speaking in front of people. ”

    ITA, although I have no experience with Toastmasters.

    Other ways of working on this could include joining the school speech and/or debate teams, or some sort of performing arts. We started DS in violin in large part because we saw a friend’s kid, who was about 5YO and had been playing a couple of years, being so comfortable and natural playing in front of people.

  57. Henry VIII from what I have read of him had charisma.
    Queen Elizabeth I was a smart political woman and supposedly had a good personality but I don’t see her described in the same way as her father.

  58. HM and Finn, I have no idea if this is of interest to you, but has just added “Hawaii, Passenger Lists, 1843-1898
    This database consists of manifests (passenger lists) for ships arriving at and departing from ports in Hawaii between 1843 and 1898.”

  59. I agree that neither Margaret Thatcher nor Angela Merkel had/has charisma. Petry, the leader of the extreme right wing populist party, probably has it, but in general, politics that use parties/lists in elections, rather than individual candidates, are probably less likely to demand/reward charisma.
    I think the degree to which you agree with someone can influence whether you consider them charismatic. Many of Trump’s supporters would probably say that he is charismatic, but I find him not just plain, but unattractive to look at, and his voice distinctively unpleasant. But then again, there are plenty of HRC’s policies overseas that I find horrific and I find her very likable. She has a tendancy to speak over-carefully, and her attempts to be precise and the way you can see the gears spinning in her brain can lead people to lampoon her and distrust what she says, when the whole point was to be very clear. I can have that tendancy myself, so I find her very relatable.

  60. I think certain people are born charismatic. It if often said that people with NLD have charisma. To use DD as an example, since she was 2 she would walk into a room and immediately have a conversation going with anyone who would listen. She loves visiting the senior centers because she’ll light up the room with people eager to converse with her. However, she misses social cues, which means that even if the room of people don’t want to listen to her, she doesn’t really notice (or seem to care). So she continues to be positive and doesn’t accept defeat. This is a trait that many charismatic people seem to have.

  61. CofC, I sent you a post over the weekend. Let me know if you got it – I have a couple more to send but wanted to make sure I sent it correctly. Thanks.

  62. Can anyone suggest some games-board or otherwise that can be played with about dozen adults at a party? Another thing to keep in mind is that kids will be around. 😁

  63. Any suggestions for a student laptop (must be able to play games as well 😊). The school uses chrome books/Google so home must sync with school easily.

  64. I think there is definitely something innate about charisma, as there is with so many other things — you can improve with practice, but you are never going to turn someone into a master if they aren’t born with it. My experience with DS and DD was totally different — it floored me that people would stop me in the street to tell me how adorable DS was, and he simpered and smiled and flirted right back. And all the while DD was standing *right there*, completely ignored. I think he had one or two physical features that would draw attention (brilliant blue eyes, and then later blond ringlets), but then those were paired with a personality that just sort of innately knew how to respond as “cute” and “engaging.”

    At the same time, I don’t see him turning into a Bill Clinton, because he is inherently too caught up in his own thing — fundamentally, all the moms adore him, but in his mind they are bakground noise compared to whatever cool project or toy he is working on. I think the true charismatics are very high both in empathy (which DS has) and in extroversion (which he doesn’t) — for them, there is a real underlying need to build those relationships and connect with people.

    I also second the notion that there are differences between the sexes based largely on social expectations. Fundamentally, women are supposed to be warm and nurturing. A charismatic man can be Hitler, because guys are supposed to be strong and allowed to be angry. A charismatic woman tends to be more in the Oprah mode — someone who is “famous” because of her ability to connect with people one on one (even though the reality underneath is that omg is she a brilliant businesswoman). If you had a woman with Hitler’s skill set, she’d just be dismissed as a total bitch.

  65. @Dell: Taboo or Apples to Apples.

    Of course, personally, I’d be tempted to whip out Cards Against Humanity, but I do recognize I am a statistical outlier in that regard. :-)

  66. “Can anyone suggest some games-board or otherwise that can be played with about dozen adults at a party? Another thing to keep in mind is that kids will be around. 😁”

    Yeah, so Cards Against Humanity isn’t going to work.

    A cheap, easy, but surprisingly fun game is LCR (left center right). It’s a dice game. You can play with the chips that they provide or bet with quarters or dollar bills. Kid friendly (they can even play).

  67. This was really fun:

    For adults and kids together, and it’s low-pressure. You don’t actually need to buy the game, you could do it with a bunch of notepads and pencils from Staples or Walmart.

    So let’s say we’re all playing. We each pull a random index card that tells us what to sketch. I draw a card that says “sailboat,” and I have 30 seconds to do my best to draw a sailboat (privately, while everyone else draws their word). Then we all pass our notepads to the person to our right. Ivy passes her drawing on to Laura, and Ivy gets my notepad, looks at my drawing (but doesn’t see my original word) and she writes down on the next page of my notepad her guess at what I attempted to draw. Since I’m a terrible artist, she might only guess “tent,” write that down, and pass the notepad to LfB, who doesn’t see my drawing, but only sees the word “tent,” and then has to draw a tent.

    It’s surprisingly funny when you actually do it. With young kids, at least with my kids, a lot of them evolve into butt, toilet, and poop, but we had a good time.

  68. “people would stop me in the street to tell me how adorable DS was, and he simpered and smiled and flirted right back.” That doesn’t always happen?

    Dell, have you entered the world of Munchkin? You’d need a couple of expansion packs. It has clever puns built in, starts off seeming very novel, but is quick to learn because it is based on principles from many common games (including the ability to attack teammates). Or you could set out a few games (including Pit–awesome game, for kids to join in or without them) at a couple different “stations”

  69. “That doesn’t always happen?”

    Order of magnitude difference between number of times it happened with my two kids. And I, of course, thought both of them were equally adorable.

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