Commentary

Charisma matters. But can it be taught?

Charisma matters. But can it be taught?
Steve Jobs holding up a MacBook Air in 2011. Photo: AP file photo
Published: 1:12 AM, December 2, 2015
Updated: 7:40 PM, December 2, 2015
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When Steve Jobs, the late chief executive of Apple, launched the Macintosh computer in 1984, he hid behind the lectern, reading from notes and glancing at his feet.

By 1996, he was walking around the stage, speaking fluently. But he was still stiff, much like the Tin Man character in The Wizard of Oz movie, says Ms Olivia Fox Cabane, who teaches charisma to chief executives. By 2000, when he announced his return as chief executive of Apple, Jobs had turned into a showman.

At that point, “he owns the stage. His eye contact is outstanding, hand gestures are carefully orchestrated and in fact, he’s using the same techniques as professional magicians”, she writes.

Ms Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, is one of a growing band of experts making a living out of teaching senior executives that “personal magnetism” — a combination of presence, power and warmth — can be learned.

Her argument is supported by academic research, which shows that people taught charismatic skills are more likely to be followed.

Drawing from his team’s study, Dr John Antonakis, professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Lausanne, says that leaders who learn 12 charismatic traits — such as using an animated voice or expressing moral conviction — become more “influential, trustworthy and leaderlike”.

Charisma influences everyone from voters to company chairmen. Dr Antonakis says he and his team can predict who will win the United States presidency on the basis of which candidate has more charisma and how well the incumbent party has handled the economy.

They found similar results in an experimental study where the probability of a chief executive being reappointed depended on his or her charisma and the organisation’s performance.

LEARNING TO BE A LEADER

Although many of us assume charisma is something a person either does or does not possess, experts say we can all be taught the seemingly indefinable allure of Mr Bill Clinton or Mr David Beckham.

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