Upskilling your Charisma

By Peter Schibli | Blog

Aug 04

I misspent several thousand hours of my teens playing Dungeons & Dragons. If you haven’t played it, think ‘Lords of the Rings’ meets tabletop wargaming with each person running a character. In this shared imaginary world you’d slay monsters and get to loot some very handy ability-boosting magical treasures. Wouldn’t it be handy in this world to be able to just slip on, say, a Ring of Charisma + 3 and instantly become even better at influencing others?

It turns out we might be able to do just that. Charisma is not a fixed attribute. Three separate research efforts have uncovered and decoded two fundamental drivers that work in concert to generate charisma. In a stroke of incredible luck, both are relatively straightforward to improve with some deliberate practice.  I’ll talk you through them below.

Study #1 Commitment x Humility

In Good to Great, Jim Collins and his research team described CEO’s whose companies, over a 15 year period, outperformed their peers by a whooping 300%. To their surprise those CEO’s weren’t rockstar visionaries. Instead they had a unique combination of being intensely committed AND very humble. New Zealanders like Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Peter Blake are great exemplars of this, each achieving spectacular wins as a result.

Study #2 Strength x Warmth

In Compelling people, John Neffiner & Matthew Kohut show how super influential people like Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey project a blend of Strength AND Warmth.  Matthew describes what happens when only one side of the equation is present, “They were either very accomplished and smart people to the point that they seem only interested in themselves and come off very cold and unfeeling. Or they were the nicest people in the world, but they were falling all over themselves apologizing and we feel like they won’t be able to deliver… The path to influence is the ability to balance both strength and warmth to gain the respect and trust of others”.

Study #3 Purpose x Respect

The authors of Crucial Conversations describe how they shadowed those individuals with ten times the influence of their peers. Their single point of difference was how they acted in tricky conversations. Where most people would either cause a trainwreck or say nothing, these people would transform the situation by bringing to bear a combination of purpose AND respect. Staying true to a purpose meant they didn’t dodge the issue. Speaking with a high level of authentic  respect meant they didn’t cause a trainwreck.

Bonus study: Require x Relate

Just to completely cinch it, Nick Petrie talks about meta-research that shows the two key influence skills that great leaders use are a combination of requiring – setting high standards, driving results and holding people accountable, AND relating – caring about their people and providing support. The key to this model is that the best leaders can see both drivers and switch between them if required.

Seeing a bit of a pattern here?


Here we have a very diverse group of researchers, looking at different aspects of the human condition, across very large sample sets, and in different domains, all honing in on the same equation!  Now that you know the secret formula you’ll probably see it at work in yourself and others.

The key is to build a high score in both. You can be the warmest, most respectful and humble person on the planet, but if you have a low level of will, ability to hold others to account, and so on you won’t be able to lead in any kind of adversity or challenge. People won’t trust your ability to deliver. On the opposite side – the most demanding, committed and strongest person who is cold, uncaring and provides no support will be disliked and only followed under duress.

Is there are larger pattern still?

Is there a single thing that underpins and generates both strength and warmth? I don’t have a clear answer yet, but I suspect that it might be something to do with confidence, or perhaps ‘mindful confidence’. Something our leadership workshop participants always comment on at the end of their program, is how much more confident they feel. If there is a link then it might just be that they’re getting their own bonus Ring of Charisma + 3 as a result.

Applying this insight

You’ve already taken the first major step by reading this which is seeing that it’s even possible. The next key step is to decide if you want invest focus your personal improvement focus energy on this area. Is this the right time for that? Will it give you a solid payback? Are you interested in it?

If the answer is yes, then I suggest a couple of starting points. Firstly, get your head inside the model by getting clear on what one word from each domain is most relevant or useful to you to focus on.  Is it strength, commitment, require, purpose or something else again that unifies these or that especially resonates with you? Is it warmth, respect, humility, relating or something else again?

A second step is to self-score. On a scale of 0-10 what do you give yourself for each area? What do you get on a 0-100 scale when you multiply them? If you lift the lowest score by just one point what would you now get as a total?

Armed with this insight you can now upskill your own Charisma one notch a time. Start to deliberately practice improving your weakest side with small tweaks. See what works and lock the things that you like into habits. Very soon you should start to see some visible effects in how others relate to you, and in your ability to achieve your goals and vision through others.

References: I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of each of the books below that this insight draws on.

  1. Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzer ISBN-10: 0071775307
  2. Good to Great by Jim Collins ISBN-10: 0712676090
  3. Compelling People by John Neffiner & Matthew Kohut  

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