Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Charisma involves teachable behaviours

Is charisma innate or can we acquire it? This question has preoccupied scholars of leadership certainly since Max Weber proposed it was a gift "not accessible to everybody" over a century ago. Research suggests charismatic leadership - the use of ideology and emotion to rouse feeling and motivations - involves explicit behaviours, such as body language techniques, showing moral conviction and using metaphor. Is it possible to teach these so-called charismatic leader tactics (CLTs), and does this lead to higher attributions of charisma? There have been promising studies, but to date there hasn't been a study that investigated mature working adults and used a control group.

Enter a team from the University of Lausanne, headed by John Antonakis. Their first study recruited 34 managers who underwent a 360-degree process, each receiving ratings of charisma and leadership prototypicality (how much they resemble a leader) from themselves and around ten other co-workers. One month later, half the managers experienced a charisma training intervention, which included presentation of the various CLTs and practical sessions. Three months after the intervention, all managers again received 360 ratings using an altered rating scale to avoid undue influence from the last process. Managers who underwent training saw their charisma ratings significantly grow, relative to those who didn't.

There remained a possibility that these effects weren't the result of CLTs but due to raised confidence or self-awareness due to the training. So a second, study looked directly at the effects of CLTs in a controlled laboratory setting. 41 participants from an MBA course made speeches as part of their course requirements. After a bout of charisma training, they were asked to give the speech again, making changes in light of the training but preserving its core content. Films of every speech were given to trained coders who determined how many of the CLTs were present in a given speech, confirming they were more frequent after the training. Speeches with more CLTs - determined by the coder group - received higher ratings from a separate rater group on trust, competence, influence, affect (emotion) and leader prototypicality.

The authors emphasise there are no quick fixes - the training involved a real commitment of time - and that inexperienced overuse of CLTs can lead to self-parody, with pantomime hand gesture and excruciating metaphor. But as the study demonstrates, charisma is at least partly the result of adopting tactics that are transferable and learnable.

ResearchBlogging.orgAntonakis, J., Fenley, M., & Liechti, S. (2011). Can Charisma Be Taught? Tests of Two Interventions The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 10 (3), 374-396 DOI: 10.5465/amle.2010.0012


For those interested, here are the Charismatic Leader Tactics: the verbal techniques
  • framing through metaphor
  • stories and anecdotes
  • demonstrating moral conviction
  • sharing the sentiments of the collective
  • setting high expectations
  • communicating confidence
  • using rhetorical devices such as contrasts, lists, and rhetorical questions
together with non-verbal tactics such as body gesture, facial expression, and animated voice tone.


  1. Great Leadership through Charisma

    Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus assert in “Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge,” that “charisma is the result of effective leadership, not the other way around.” A recent report on the measurability of charisma co-authored by Kenneth Levine, Communications Studies Professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, suggests that traits like: empathy, good listening skills, eye contact, enthusiasm, self-confidence and skillful speaking are measurable by social scientists. After surveying students to assess the means of defining and characterizing charisma, these learnable traits were viewed as the hallmark of charisma. Following this line of thinking to its logical conclusion suggests that any individual demonstrating these traits would be described as charismatic. In this sense, charisma would be the affectation of certain physical traits, not a specific personality trait or worldview. In this context, charismatic traits are not inborn, but learned. Going even farther, one could assert that the world would have more charismatic leaders if only more individuals possessed these physical traits. This notion is contrary to the work established by Charisma Researcher Edward Brown of Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute.

    Brown asserts that traits like eye contact, effective listening skills, enthusiasm, passion and other traits are the manifestations of charisma, not charisma in its pristine form. If everyone learned the skills for becoming more charismatic, there would not be a larger number of charismatic leaders, but a larger number of people demonstrating charismatic traits. Brown is careful to not “split hairs,” when demarcating the differences. The likes of Adolph Hitler, Alexander Hamilton and Martin L. King, Jr. represent perspectives of grand ideas that transcend the physical mannerisms of charismatic personalities. Charismatic traits are the means by which charismatic leaders express ideas. The reason there would not be more charismatic leaders in the world if more people learned these behaviors (greater eye contact, empathy, effective listening, etc…) is because these individuals would not necessarily be motivated by compelling ideas. This is the critical distinction between charismatic personalities and individuals exhibiting charismatic traits. In addition, when charisma is measured based on these physical attributes, the results could be a “false positive.” Yes, one may score high on charismatic mannerisms, but low on the ability to create transformational ideas. The distinction can be characterized as one merely going through the motions versus one who thinks, feels, analyzes, synthesizes and embodies a crusade or mission. To relegate charismatic leaders to mere “actors” would suggest that behind the mask is a chameleon who seeks merely to inspire good feelings within others rather than transform a specific human condition. This is largely why charismatic leaders have been more effective during times of crisis and instability. Charismatic leaders believe they are best suited for the situation at hand, which encompasses ego, narcissism, insecurity and visions of grandeur which are inextricable traits within charismatic personalities. Individuals who score high on charismatic scales would view such traits as oppositional to their self-image as well as antithetical to their ideals on charisma.

    Measuring charisma and its manifestation is valuable for developing more effective interpersonal skills within organizations. The ability to coordinate and create alliances will always be indispensable to the viability of organizations. However, there must be a distinction between what it means to be congenial versus what it means to be transformational within organizations. To confuse the two would merely create more questions than answers.

    Edward Brown
    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute

  2. I also summarised prof. Antioniakis' research over on my blog. As far as I can see, you can divide his advice into nine verbal and three non verbal behaviors. And the interesting thing is that most of them look like you should be able to train yourself in them quite easily - there's even a dramatic picture of a 'before' and 'after':


  3. Really your post is really very good and I appreciate it. Its hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, You write very well which is amazing. I really impressed by your pos

    Professional Development

  4. Any training course such as the Behavioural Skills Training is intended to provide both an up-to-date theoretical overview of a collection of experiences and also the practical exercises. Upon completion, a course certificate is provided. Moreover, this training can open the doors for more opportunities to knock at your door since it helps in enhancing work relationships.

  5. This post is really very good, We are also Skill Development Advisor and providing Business Consultant for startup companey.