Article: Can charisma be taught to leaders?


Can charisma be taught to leaders?

Popular belief is that charismatic leaders are born that ways. An academic research proves otherwise, identifying 12 Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLTs) which can be learnt with practice.
Can charisma be taught to leaders?

“Charisma is defined as symbolic leader influence rooted in emotional and ideological foundations.” - ‘Can Charisma Be Taught – A Test Of Two Interventions’ by John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, Sue Liechti

From a theoretical standpoint, symbolic leadership concentrates on studying values, meaning, interpretation, history, context, as well as other symbolic elements in the leadership processi; and charismatic leadership uses symbolic influence and stems from certain leader actions and attributions that followers make of leadersii

In everyday practice, charisma can be understood as one’s ability to persuade others using ‘powerful and reasoned rhetoric’, ‘establish personal and moral credibility’, and then ‘rouse followers’ emotions and passions’. Charismatic leadership, even if different from transformational, transactional, or instrumental leadership, is a very effective means of leading, influencing, and motivating followers. A tarnished charisma in the eyes of a leader’s followers can lead to the followers losing motivation and effectively productivity, an article published on People Mattersiii read.

Transactional and instructive leadership can be mastered fairly easily given that the leader has the technical know-how of the team’s role. Mastering charisma is not easy, but if layered over transactional and instructive leadership, it can increase a leader’s effectiveness quotient significantly. A lot of leaders believe that charisma cannot be learnt or mastered; that charisma is an innate trait in a human being that (s)he is born with.

A research, ‘Can charisma be taught?’ answers this exact question by conducting a host of experiments. The research found out that charisma can indeed be taught. The researchers, John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, Sue Liechti, identified 12 Charismatic Leadership Tactics or CLTs, which can be learnt with consistent practice. They are a combination of verbal and non-verbal techniques (9 verbal and 3 non-verbal)

Here are the 12 Charismatic Leadership Tactics that the researchers have identified as what improve leader charisma and effectiveness:

1. Metaphors, similes, and analogies

People retain and remember the messaging to which they relate to, more than any other messaging. Metaphors, similes, and analogies play a major role in engaging the audience and letting them associate with the argument. A metaphorical imagery was used by Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I have a dream” speech which was delivered close to the Lincoln Memorial. Doing it in front of an Abraham Lincoln statue was symbolic and metaphorical for it was President Lincoln who abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment, and Martin Luther King Jr. was crusading against the continued practice of racism. 

As the authors point out in an article for the Harvard Business Review, Martin Luther King Jr. used a banking analogy to explain the plight of black Americans. He said that “America had given its black citizens ‘a bad check,’ one that had come back marked ‘insufficient funds’.” The masses can relate to this analogy because everyone understands the concept of a bad check and when it bounces. 

2. Stories and anecdotes

People listen to leaders with much more eagerness when the conversation involves a story. It is a simplistic way of letting the follower derive meaning from the story and let her interpret it the way she wants. Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford is hailed as one of the best speeches ever made for a reason – it is because he was able to mesmerize the crowd because he shared his life stories. “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories,” the co-founder of the Fortune #3 and one of the most innovative companies said as he started his commencement speech. Such anecdotal speeches are very inspiring and the follower really connects with the leader. Swarathma’s Jishnu Dasgupta shared a great story himself to inspire audiences at the People Matters Total Rewards Conclave earlier this year.

3. Contrasts

Contrasts are another effective CLT. Researchers say that contrasts “combine reason and passion; and clarify your position by pitting it against the opposite, often to dramatic effect.”

4. Rhetorical questions

Asking questions entice the followers to respond and participate in a speech, even if the question is rhetorical. The request for follower participation drives their emotions for the leader and this is what defines the leader’s charisma. Remember the charisma of Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator when he asks everyone, “Are you not entertained?”

5. Three-part lists

Give the followers a list of three items (it can be 3 actionables for them, or a summary of the contents of your speech in 3 points, or the 3 key takeaways from the talk). It is a great way to distil any of your message into a summary of points and it is easy to remember. 

6. Express moral conviction

This is a great motivator to people who feel a moral obligation to change things. For instance, a leader at a social development firm may motivate his people by highlighting how a dip in their performance at work is impacting the thousands that depend on their organization. Moral convictions can be used in every setting.

To give a corollary from the sporting world, the half-time speech of Liverpool Football Club’s coach Rafael Benitez in the 2005 Champions League Final, urging his players to score for the fans, is what motivated players to etch their names in history – coming from 3-0 down to win the final against AC Milan.

7. Reflect the group’s sentiments

It is also important to be empathetic and reflect what the group is feeling to exercise charisma. In Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ on the stroke of midnight on the 15th of August, 1947, he reflected the group’s (the whole country’s) sentiment of endurance, pains suffered, and the joy of independence. “Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now,” said the first Prime Minister of independent India capturing the group’s sentiments. 

8. Set high goals

As a leader, if you do not aim high, the emotions won’t transcend into the followers. Jobs always believed in his idea of Personal Computing and making a computer accessible to everybody. Despite the failures of the Macintosh and the sustainable returns from Apple II, Jobs set the goal of making the Macintosh work, even if the board didn’t buy into the idea and that got him fired. Not only did his idea of a Mac bring the company soaring from the brink of bankruptcy, it also proved that setting high goals is a reflection of Charisma – and Jobs had it in abundance!

9. Convey confidence that goals can be achieved

With setting goals, you also have to ooze the confidence that the goal can be achieved. Same as what Benitez did in the half-time talk in Istanbul during the Champions League final, or what Jobs did when he kept gunning for investing in the Mac or iPod.

10 - 12. Non-verbal CLTs: Animated voice, Facial expressions, Gestures

Non-verbal expressions of the tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures – all contribute to the charisma of a leader, coupled with the verbal behaviours. However, these are harder to learn and are sensitive to the cultural context. 

The researchers coached leaders across these 12 CLTs in a large Swiss firm, and found that 65% of those trained in CLTs receive above average rating, compared to only 35% of those who haven’t been trained.

 i Contemporary Leadership Theories by Ingo Winkler 
 ii Can charisma be taught? A test of two interventions by John Antonakis, Marika Fenley and Sue Liechti 
 iii Why sleep is the deciding factor of your leadership style by People Matters Editorial Team /article/watercooler/why-sleep-is-the-deciding-factor-of-your-leadership-style-16441

Read full story

Topics: Leadership

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?