What Steve Jobs can teach us about hacking charisma

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Olivia Fox Cabane makes her living by teaching people the skills needed to be charismatic, influential and persuasive. During her career, she’s been invited to speak at Harvard, MIT, Google and the United Nations. And through her new book, The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, Cabane wants to change the way you think about charisma.

While most people think charisma is so something you’re either born with it or you’re not, Cabane believes that charisma is nothing more than a set of attitudes, skills and behaviours that can not only be practiced and perfected, but can also be switched on and off when the need arises.

Cabane argues that even Steve Jobs, now considered to be one of the most charismatic and visionary business leaders of all time, spent years learning the skills required to craft his public persona. For example, if you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that Jobs learnt his infamous non-blinking stare from a college friend, constantly demonstrated his ability to charm people on a moment’s notice and painstakingly rehearsed every keynote speech he ever gave. In short, Steve Jobs was a completely different person in public and in private.

Types of Charisma:

Another point raised in the book is that there are different kinds of charisma. Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama and Barack Obama are all considered to be examples of highly charismatic leaders, but each of them is charismatic in their own way. According to Cabane, there are four main types of charisma: Focus Charisma, Visionary Charisma, Kindness Charisma and Authoritive Charisma (interestingly enough, Cabane considers Bill Clinton to be the most charismatic leader in recent history as he is one of the rare cases of an individual mastering all four types of charisma).

While each of these styles of charisma can be learnt, Cabane notes that some charisma styles might be better suited to particular individuals based on their personality. And even if you learn to master all four styles of charisma, a large part of your success will depend on knowing the right situation to use each one. For example, Authoritve Charisma might come in handy when negotiating a tough deal, but it won’t help inspire your team to reach new creative heights or help you while networking at a social function.

Serious Jedi Business Magic:

Another interesting part of the book is the link Cabane makes between positive thinking and charisma. Cabane explores the Placebo Effect as well as the Nocebo Effect and notes that many of the tricks to cultivating charisma are akin to Jedi Mind Tricks. I prefer the term ‘Serious Jedi Business Magic’ – mostly because it is fun to say.

According to Cabane, a large part of being charismatic is generating a sustaining a charismatic frame of mind. And if the idea of “positive thinking” sounds a bit too touchy-feely for you, you’ll be glad to know that Cabane relies on a number of scientific studies to back up her theories. For example, did you know that the human mind can read facial expressions in as little as seventeen milliseconds? That means that when someone is talking to you and you start thinking about something else or even what you’re going to say next, they’ll know that they don’t have your full attention.

There are a variety of subconscious cues that we communicate to people on a daily basis through our facial expressions and our body language. And because these cues are communicated subconsciously, Cabane believes that the only way to prevent them from manifesting physically is to change the way you think.

In the book, Cabane offers a wide range of exercises that can help cultivate a charismatic frame of mind. These exercises range from meditation, relieving stress, dealing with physical and mental discomfort, visualisations and cultivating goodwill toward others. To be honest, there were some exercises that I approached with scepticism but if you do read the book, keep an open mind and give all of them a try. You might be surprised at which ones actually work for you.

How much a reader gets out of The Charisma Myth will vary from person to person. It’s highly unlikely that you lack all of the skills that Cabane covers in the book. The chances are that you probably have at least a few of them. But if you are interested in learning how to be come more charismatic, influential and persuasive, then this might be the book for you.

If I still haven’t convinced you, you can hear Cabane speak about her ideas in her own words in a talk she recently gave at Google:

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