On the face of it, getting the job done does not require charisma. Project Management is a functional discipline – or so many people will tell you. But the truth is that we get things done through people: our team and our stakeholders. So, being charismatic can surely help us.
And my answer is ‘yes it can’. Project Management is more about people and communication than about anything else. So, if people like you and are drawn to you, you can get more done, more easily. This means that charisma is a valuable asset for Project Managers.
Therefore, we need to look at how you can come across as charismatic. And, before you say ‘surely it’s just the way you are’, let me say… Yes… and No.
It is the way you are. But it has nothing to do with the way you are born. And everything to do with the way you choose to be. The things that make you seem charismatic to the people around you are all completely learnable. So, in this article, I’ll share the 7 Secrets of Charisma.
The seven secrets are really the elements of behavior that lead us to come across as charismatic. So I’ve structured this article as simply as possible.
We get the English word charisma from the Greek, ‘kharis’, meaning grace or charm. When you have it, people want to be with you.
So, charisma is a kind of personal magnetism that inspires enthusiasm and even affection in the people around you.
People want to be with charismatic people. So, they want you to like them, and they want your approval. They can become devoted to you
Project Management is a ‘people-profession’. To deliver your projects, you need to be able to:
And it’s a happy fact (though not a coincidence) that another hugely valuable personal trait shares a number of the same behavioral traits as charisma. You may want to look at our companion article, ‘Gravitas: How to be a Project Manager of Substance‘.
We want to be with a charismatic person.
Don’t we all want people to like us?
Some people might say ‘you don’t have to like me; you just need to respect me’. But ask yourself: ‘do we really respect people we don’t like?’ We can respect aspects of their personality and their capabilities. But we don’t really respect them.
On the other hand, we will often do more for the people we like than we will do for ourselves. Bing likeable is a huge asset in a leader. So…
At its simplest, we just need to be nice to people. We must be respectful, polite, and take an interest in them. We’ll come to the third of these under our second secret.
Being polite and respectful is a matter of common courtesy. Every culture has its own norms of what respect and politeness look like. As a Project leader, you need to recognize how this varies across the different culture that make up your team, your client orgnaization, and your stakeholders.
It turns out the courtesy makes us seem more attractive. Which is good, because you cannot change your physical attractiveness. Or can you?
I am certainly not advocating any radical changes. But paying attention to clothing, accessories, and grooming will really help.
And there’s a simple secret to this…
People like people who are like themselves. Choose a style that fits into the organizational and cultural norms. But also, people like people who are like they want to be. So, as a charismatic Project Leader, select styles and accessories that are just a step above the people you lead. That way, they see your persona as one to aspire to.
People also come to like what they are familiar with. If people see you often, you feel familiar and, as long as you do nothing to antagonize them, familiarity leads to liking.
Another way to build familiarity and also to demonstrate courtesy and respect is o quickly learn and start using people’s name.
Take great care – especially in a multi-cultural context – to learn how to use their name and how to pronounce it correctly. There is nothing more annoying from someone who has always used the name Mike to hear someone call him Michael – or vice versa. Or to hear people constantly mispronounce our name. And, equally bad, for a Stuart to see their name written as Stewart on a meeting note, or a Katherine to see Catherine on a report.
People have very little interest in you. The person they really care about is themselves. So, if you want them to like you, you need to show an interest in them. And this brings us to…
We know they want to be with us.
When you are likeable in the way you behave and you take an interest in other people, you come across as a warm person. And warmth is a key component of how we come across as charismatic.
Let’s start with the absolute basics: smiling. People like people who are pleased to see them. A genuine smile when you meet someone says ‘I am pleased to be with you’. What greater compliment could there be?
People like people who are interested in them. So, take an interest in the person or people you are with. Rather than talking about yourself, focus on asking questions and listening to what they say. Elicit the other person’s story and don’t interrupt them. Ask more questions, when they stop.
Be open-minded to their opinions, ideas, and stories. And treat each one in a positive manner. Make people feel good by endorsing their point of view. People like people who make them feel good. And one thing that works best of all…
Give sincere praise and compliments. And no, I do not mean buttering them up with fake compliments. Also beware of personal compliments that are inappropriate in a workplace context – like those relating to personal appearance. Not only is this the wrong thing to compliment a professional person about: it can get you into trouble in many places.
People like people who care about them. So, the ultimate in focusing on other people is to be be sensitive to their mood and feelings. Are they confident, hesitant, eager or feeling some form of discomfort? Be sensitive to their state of mind and adapt your approach accordingly. People will love you for it.
We know they are with us.
This one is so important that it is often mistaken for charisma. In fact, it is just one element. But it is a vital one.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and had the feeling that they just weren’t there with you? Of course you have.
But a far rarer experiene is to have a conversation and feel that the other person is 100 percent there with you. It’s as if, for them, there is nothing else in the world, other than you and your conversation with them. That feels special.
So, give that feeling to other people.
In a larger gathering, where you place yourself in a room conveys presence or not. A charismatic person does not stand by a wall, occupy a corner, or turn to a buffet with their back to the room. Occupy a prominent (not necessarily dominant) place, to show your confidence.
And once you’re with the person or people you will be engaging with, physical presence comes down to three things:
Physical presence is just a surface signal. It’s important, but it’s like the bread part of a sandwich. It’s the filling that caries the bulk of the flavor and nutrition!
Lets start where we left off…
For the greatest sense of presence and deepest feeling of charisma, go for a deep gaze. Look right into the other person’s eyes as if you want to get into their mind. One tip is to look for the eye color.
To carry on my food metaphor, that’s the sizzle. Here’s the steak…
Focus all of your attention on the other person. Don’t let your mind:
Your only job is to listen to what they are saying and pay attention to the way they say it. That is, become aware of their:
Which is all a way of saying that you need to become an excellent listener.
We know they can make things happen.
People are drawn to authority of all forms:
Now, physical authority is not a strong basis for building a long-term professional career. If you are an athletic 1.85m/ 6’1″ then congratulations. You won that round of nature’s lottery. I’m not. And neither are most people reading this.
When it comes to hierarchical authority: as Project Manager, you do lead your project. But the reality for very many PMs is that we don’t always have a direct supervisory, managerial, or controling relationship with many of the people who will contribute to our projects. And you certainly don’t have any organizational authority over your stakeholders.
What you can and should have is a measure of intellectual authority. This is not about the technical expertise in the subject matter of your project. You may have this: you may not.
But, you should certainly have a clarity of understanding and depth of expertise in the Project Management discipline. And that will certainly lend you a charisma. You are someone who can get stuff done.
This one is a little circular. Your personal authority comes from who you are, your:
But the fact is that people respond to who you are and will follow people that inspire trust. And charisma and its components are a part of that.
We display authority through our demeanor. We avoid the trivial and focus on the most material considerations. Make your speech concise and precise. Distinguish clearly between questions and statements.
If you let the tone of your voice rise at the end of a sentence, English speakers will hear it as a question. If you are intending to be stating a fact or giving an instruction, it will sound weak.
People with authority and who are confident of their status speak slowly and take their time. They think before responding and pause for others to notice important points.
Another trait of charismatic people is their use of stories to illustrate their point. Often they will use analogies and metaphors to explain difficult concepts and ideas.
We know they will make things happen.
Energy is something most people associate with charisma. It’s a sense of controlled energy – ready for you to unleash when the time is right.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll jump up and do everything yourself. It’s more about having the willingness to step in and get involved (as leader or supporter) whenever there’s a good opportunity or a real need. I think three things contribute to this…
Enthusiasm is infectious. Imagine someone who is not enthusiastic about your ideas – or theirs… Could you really see them as charismatic?
Confidence works in the same way. Once again, without it, there is no charisma.
This one is different. To be charismatic, I do not believe you need to have all of the answers. That would be absurd – especially for Project managers. We spend too much of our time doing new things. Sometimes, there simply are not the answers available.
But what you do need to know is the process. What are the next steps to take. A professional who can face the unknown and know how to proceed safely to the next step, to start to uncover the answers (or even clarify the question) is valuable indeed.
One exceptional book about charisma* identifies three essential components:
I see power as a combination of authority and energy. We know they can make things happen and that they will make things happen… when they need to.
But what happens when things go wrong?
We know they won’t stop trying.
Listen to any successful person and they will tell you the same thing. On the road to success, you are going to get knocked down… many times. If you want to succeed, you’ll need get back up again as many times as you are knocked over.
Charismatic people accept setbacks as a part of the process. They don’t whine about unfairness, but rather, they behave with equanimity and focus on getting back up.
But note that I am not saying they have a foolish optimism that blinds them to reality. That is certainly not the case: they have a realistic appreciation of the situation. But they also have a positive approach to taking responsibility for making things better. And they set high expectations for themselves and the people around them. No pity.
We know they will pursue and do the right things.
I am not sure that this is truly a part of charisma. After all, the world has seen plenty of charismatic leaders who can tick all of boxes 1 to 6. But their track record on basic humanity… not so hot.
I include integrity because charisma without it is hollow. it allows you to become manipulative and abusive. Your conscience may allow it, but mine doesn’t.
It’s a last tip, if you like. Remember that bit about listening to other people. What do you do with what you learn? Especially with what you learn about other people.
If you have no integrity, you’ll use it against them. And you’ll gossip.
If you go bad-mouthing people, it will come back to bite you. You get what yu give. And this is especially so in terms of opinions about people. Here;’s something imporant:
What we say about other people sticks to us.
If you talk badly of Chris, then I will think badly of you. But, if you speak well of Charlie, I will think well of you. What comes around goes around.
Who do you know that is charismatic? What do you notice about them and what it is that lends them their charisma? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and I’ll be delighted to respond to all contributions.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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