Can Charisma Be Learned?

001Have you ever seen someone give a really great presentation and you were struck not only by how well they communicated, but also their magnetic personality? I remember when I was working for a startup 20 years ago and we were invited to attend a presentation by Jim Barksdale, then-president of Netscape, the company that had acquired us.

It turns out it was the first and last presentation I heard him give, since only a week after we were bought, AOL acquired Netscape, and Jim Barksdale left the company. But it was an incredibly inspiring presentation, and I remember feeling a little sad that this would be the last time he would be speaking to us. He was a great storyteller and left everyone in the room feel proud of what they had accomplished and hopeful for the future. A few weeks earlier he had come to our small startup and taught us the “Netscape Everywhere Team Fight” chant and gestures. I would say that he was full of charisma.

Some of my clients have recently told me that they wanted to become more charismatic leaders. Which led to the question of whether charisma is something you are just born with or whether it can be taught.

Interestingly, research shows that charisma is a learnable skill. According to the Harvard Business Review article Learning Charisma, there are charismatic leadership tactics that when studied and practiced, can help managers be seen as more influential, trustworthy and “leaderlike.” According to their study, the leadership ratings of executives who were trained in these tactics rose by about 60%.

What are these tactics?

  1. Connect, Compare and Contrast

By using metaphors, similes and analogies, leaders can make it easy for people to understand and remember their key points. Whether you are comparing your organization to a ship on a journey or your group as a football team in a playoff game, it invokes a clear image and feelings.

Stories and anecdotes help listeners connect with your message and contrasts can make your point much clearer. (“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” ~John F. Kennedy)

  1. Engage and Distill

Rhetorical questions can encourage engagemen.t (“How do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?” ~Simon Sinek)

Three-part lists are regularly used in consulting and distill any message into key takeaways. (“There are 3 things we need to do in order to get back on track: 1.  …”)


  1. Show Integrity, Authority, and Passion

Expressions of moral conviction help reveal the quality of your character and allow others to align with you. (“This is your hour. This is not victory of a party or any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole.” ~Winston Churchill)

Statements that reflect the sentiments of the group have a similar effect. (“I know what is going through your minds, because the same is going through mine. We all feel disappointed and demotivated…But it’s not going to be like this for much longer. I have a plan.”)

Setting high goals demonstrate the leader’s passion and inspire it in their followers. It’s important to convey confidence that the goals can be achieved.

  1. Nonverbal Expressions

Using an animated voice, facial expressions and gestures help reinforce the message and must be used in the right cultural context.


These charismatic leadership tactics take practice to master until they come naturally and working with someone who can give you feedback works best. Since this list is pretty comprehensive, I would suggest working on one element at a time.

Some of you may wonder whether using charisma is manipulative. It can be. As with anything, it can be used for good and bad, and there is a fine line between being charming and being manipulative. So it depends on your character and your intent. If you want to be an authentic and honest leader, I believe you can be authentic, honest AND charismatic.

Which charismatic leadership tactic appeals to you?


Manuela loves helping people who are unhappy in their job create a career and life they love! You can visit Manuela’s Website for Career Happiness Coaching.

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