How to become a charismatic leader

What did Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Steve Jobs have in common?

You are absolutely right, charisma. They were great leaders whom people wanted to follow, for better or for worse. Steve Jobs, for example, is known for his ability to convince others to believe almost anything. His charismatic characteristics were referred to as "Reality Distortion Field". The term implied that he was able to distort an audience's sense of reality in order to make them believe that every task at hand was possible. More importantly, Jobs trained himself to be charismatic. Yes, charisma can be learned. It is all about adopting the right personal mindsets and nonverbal cues and how you present them. If you want to boost your charisma, practice a combination of power, warmth and presence, and most importantly, learn to be a great storyteller.


Power is what others perceive as your ability to make things happen. Show that you believe in your ability, values, and knowledge. Having visible confidence will inspire faith in you and your leadership. 

The cues that help you communicate your personal power lie in your aspects such as your posture, your dress code, and your voice.

  • Posture: Stand with your arms open. Own your space. Sit up straight. Stand tall with your head held high.

  • Dress code: Dress appropriately. "Act the part, and you will become the part" - (William James)

  • Voice: The act of talking tells others that you are in control. Being loud is not equal to being dominant. 


Confidence is essential, but there is a line between great confidence and narcissism. By going to the wrong end of the scale, you risk disengaging people. Instead, stay warm and connected. It is important to know that you cannot fake warmth. You can be polite with gentle nods and friendly smiles that come deeper from the inside. Remove barriers to let people in, connect and love.

Power without love is reckless and abusive, love without power is sentimental and anaemic
— Martin Luther King


To be a charismatic leader, you need to be completely present in the moment. Take Bill Clinton as an example. Many say that when they are with him, they not only feel his power and sense of warm engagement, but they can also feel his complete presence.

You want to maintain a high level of attention from the people you are interacting with. The ability to be able to notice when your mind wanders so that you can redirect your thoughts back into the present moment is a leadership habit. It takes constant practice, but such an ability will reap rewards that will make you appealing to others.

Some nonverbal behaviours you should pay attention to are:

  • Eye contact: Make eye contact with those you talk to. Warm and friendly eye contact tells others that you are present and interested in what they have to say.

  • Body language: Open your arms and shoulders towards ones you are conversing with and void distracting habits like playing with a pen or glancing at your phone's screen.

Spare a minute, and think about the following response that someone gave when asked about her impression of the two English political leaders, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, after dining with them.

When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England

Lessons: Share your confidence with others. Show your personal power but do not forget to focus your energy and attention to their presence.

The stories you tell

Have you heard the story Steve Jobs told Stanford’s graduates about how he stumbled into inventing beautiful typography for the first Macintosh? He put his personal story in the context of his adopting history. He appealed to the people with a value that is at the very core of most if not all people's values: family. While he never graduated from college, he was giving a speech at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. The irony intrigued people to want to hear more. They were drawn by his emotions and were inspired to adapt his mantras that said “follow your heart”, and ”stay hungry, stay foolish”. 

Lessons: Learn to craft meaningful, emotional stories. Practice the art of humour, metaphor, and symbolism so you can entertain while you inform.

In brief, everyone can learn to enhance their charisma but it involves a lot of hard work. You need to understand your power, practice your presence and deliver the two with total warmth. Learn to tell stories that people want to hear. Learn to tell stories that talk to people's hearts and inspire them to follow you as a charismatic leader.

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