The Charisma Myth

The Charisma Myth - How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane


Charisma is an attribute of personal magnetism or charm that influences others. Charisma draws people to you. It compels people to like you, to trust you, and to want to be led by you.

[Charismatic leaders] cause followers to become highly committed to the leader’s mission, to make significant personal sacrifices, and to perform above and beyond the call of duty.
— Robert House

Charisma has long been thought to be a magical quality bestowed on a select few, but the truth is charisma levels fluctuate. Less charismatic people will have moments where they can command and captivate a room. Similarly, people who are extremely charismatic, Steve Jobs or Marilyn Monroe for example, weren't always that way. Steve Jobs was considered one of the most charismatic CEO's of his time, but during his earliest presentations he came off as bashful and shy, even awkward.

Charisma is the result of specific non-verbal behaviors and its presence depends on whether or not someone is exhibiting those behaviors. This book will teach you the components of charisma, the different styles of charisma and how you can use specific non-verbal behaviors to become a more effective communicator and leader.

Myths About Charisma

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Myth 1 - You have to be naturally outgoing.

Western society places a strong emphasis on the skills and abilities of extroverts, sometimes leaving introverts feeling defective or uncool. Introversion is not only not a handicap, it can actually be a strong advantage with certain forms of charisma. 

Myth 2 - You have to be attractive.

Countless charismatic leaders were far from fitting classic standards of beauty. While good looks do confer some advantage, they are by no means a prerequisite. In fact, developing your charisma will make you more attractive to others.

Myth 3 - You need to change your personality.

Developing charisma does not require the transition to a particular personality style or doing something against your nature. Becoming more charismatic involves things like posture, eye contact, and voice modulation. These are simple tweaks, not deep value changes.

The Charismatic Behaviors

Presence, Power, and Warmth

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When we first meet some one, we instinctively assess whether that person is a potential friend or foe and whether they have the power to enact those intentions.

When you meet a charismatic person, you get the impression that they have a lot of power and they like you a lot.

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


Being present simply means having a moment-to-moment awareness of what's happening. It means paying attention rather than being caught up in your own thoughts.

Being charismatic doesn't depend on the amount of time that you give each interaction, it depends on how fully present you are in those interactions.


Power is your ability to affect the world around you through influence, money, intelligence, strength, or high social status. We look for clues of someone’s power in a person's appearance and in their body language.


Warmth is a person’s goodwill towards others. Warmth is the indicator of whether a person will use their power for us or against us and is detected almost entirely through body language.

Both power and warmth are necessary for charisma.

  • Power without warmth can be impressive but can come across as arrogant or cold.
  • Warmth without power can be likeable but can come across as overeager and desperate to please.

Different Charisma Styles

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Just as there are different leadership and personality styles, there are different charisma styles. The four styles are focus, visionary, kindness, and authority.

Each style has its own benefits and drawbacks. Similar to leadership styles, it is possible to cultivate the ability to use more than one style, to mix styles, and to switch back and forth between styles as different situations arise and develop.

Focus Charisma: Presence and Confidence

Focus charisma is deeply rooted in presence. It gives people the feeling that you are fully present with them, listening to them and absorbing their message. Focus charisma makes people feel heard, listened to, and understood.

Focus charisma is particular useful when you need people to open up and share information. It is also very helpful in difficult situations such as negotiations or diffusing hostile conversations.

Famous people with Focus Charisma: Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jack Keeler, Gandhi, Chairman Mao.

Visionary Charisma: Belief and Confidence

Visionary charisma is based on belief. It's the ability to project complete conviction and confidence in a cause. Visionary charisma makes others feel inspired to believe in a vision. In this way, visionary charisma is based on power. 

This style can inspire belief in others and lead people to monumental change, it's particularly useful when you want to inspire creativity and teamwork.

Famous people with Visionary Charisma: Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., George W. Bush, Joan of Arc.

Kindness Charisma: Warmth and Confidence

Those with kindness charisma radiate tremendous warmth and complete acceptance. These charismatics can make others feel completely and wholehearted accepted. Kindness charisma relies heavily on warmth. 

Kindness charisma creates an emotional bond and safe space. It makes you very likeable and it often leaves others enamored with you. 

Famous people with Kindness Charisma: Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, Princess Diana.

Authority Charisma: Status and Confidence

Authority charisma invokes deference in those within its influence. This can take epic proportions because the human reaction to authority is deeply hardwired in our brain.

Authority charisma is based in power: the belief that this person has the ability to affect our world. This is conveyed most often in a person's body language and appearance. This charisma style is useful in getting others to listen to you and obey you and is therefore vital in a crisis. 

Famous people with Authority Charisma: Margaret Thatcher, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell, Winston Churchill.

Switching Between Styles

All four charisma styles can be cultivated and used in different situations. The style you choose should be based on your personality, the situation, and your goals. The context in which you operate sets the lens through which others will perceive you and your charisma. 

Oprah, for example, can demonstrate focus, kindness, and in some cases, even visionary charisma during a single interview.

Charismatic First Impressions

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First impressions are crucial, and in most cases you'll never be able to override someone's initial impression of you.

Within a few seconds, people have judged your social and economic level, your level of education, and even your level of success.

Within minutes, they’ve also decided your levels of intelligence, trustworthiness, competence, friendliness, and confidence.
— Olivia Fox Cabane

These instant evaluations can last for years and often are indelible.

People like, and feel most comfortable with, others who are like them both in appearance and behavior. Chapter 7 of this book gives a lot of actionable tips for choosing clothes, giving a great handshake, breaking the ice, and exiting gracefully. 

Communicating with Charisma

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Charismatic Listening

Being a good listener makes others feel heard and understood without you saying a word. There are three keys to effective communication: focused listening, refraining from interrupting, and deliberate pausing.

Attentive listening: It's all about your mindset. Really focus on what the other person is saying. Don't think about what you'll say next or let your mind wander.

Refrain from interruptingNever interrupt. Even if you're excited about something your partner just said, they'll feel a twinge of resentment or frustration at not being able to finish their sentence. On the contrary, let others interrupt you. People love to hear themselves talk. The more you let them speak, the more they'll like you.

Deliberate pausing: Let your face react to what they're saying, pause for about two seconds, and then respond. It takes confidence to bear the silence, but it will make the person feel more understood, and make them feel what they said was intelligent and interesting, because they can see you processing it. 

Charismatic Speaking

People associate you with the feelings you consistently produce in them. If you're always making people feel good, they'll feel good when you arrive, even if you haven't said anything. So avoid creating negative associations, or mixed emotions.

When you speak, don't try to impress others. But when listening, let others impress you. They will like you for it.

Get graphic when you speak. Use pictures, metaphors, and sensory-rich language to convey a compelling story. At the same time, use as few words as possible. It's not about the amount you talk but the value you deliver with your words.

Smiling and speaking slowly will make you appear warm and powerful, giving your message a boost.

Charismatic Body Language

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Logic makes people think. Emotion makes them act.
— Alan Weiss

We have two modes of communicating, verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbal communication can be used with and against your verbal communication.

If your verbal and non-verbal signals are both positive, for example, the non-verbal amplifies the verbal. When they are incongruous we tend to trust the non-verbal.

  • Good news delivered with good body language can turn into great news.
  • Bad news delivered with good body language can soften the blow, making the news easier to receive.

The Importance of Body Language

The MIT Media Lab found that it could predict the outcome of 87% of negotiations, sales calls, and business plan pitches simply by watching body language, without hearing a single word of content.

There is far too much body language for us to control consciously. 

Humans experience microexpressions, which are split-second reactions of our internal state. Though they may last only a few milliseconds, our conversation partner will likely notice. Therefore, if your body language is friendly, but internally you’re angry, the person you’re speaking with will be able to tell something’s wrong, even if they can’t identify what it is.

To be truly charismatic, charismatic behaviors must originate in your mind. This is because whatever your mind believes, your body will manifest. 

This section of the book reminded me of a famous TED talk of the same topic.

Charisma Spreads

Emotions expressed by one person can spread to others in a process called emotional contagion. If the leader of your group is stressed or angry, those emotions are likely to spread to the others members of the team. This is another reason that mindset is so important in conveying charisma. If you're positive, those you interact with will also be positive.

Consciously you can also mimic, or mirror, the body language of others to establish trust and rapport. It makes others feel more relaxed and comfortable with you.

Where To Buy

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Buy the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM, or just Google it. (I receive no kickback or commission for these links or summaries. See my disclosure for more.)

Even more great stuff in the book:

  • The main obstacles to charisma and how to overcome them
  • The impacts of placebo and nocebo (its reciprocal)
  • The impostor syndrome
  • Destigmatization shame
  • Creating charismatic metal states
  • How to develop each charisma style, and when to use them
  • The downsides of each charisma style and how to overcome them
  • Why first impressions last so long
  • How to overcome a bad first impression
  • How to deal with difficult people
  • Presenting with charisma
  • Using charisma in a crisis
  • And much more!
Erik Cianci