- It’s generally agreed that most successful CEOs and business leaders are charismatic.
- I took a masterclass with psychologist Richard Reid to try and improve mine.
- He taught me that charisma is as much about managing your emotions as about how you’re perceived.
It’s generally agreed that the best leaders share a common trait – charisma. While some people will always be better at it, experts say that it can be learned.
In a small, cozy room not far from London’s central shopping district, Oxford Street, I put that to the test.
Richard Reid, a psychologist, business coach, and CEO of Pinnacle Wellbeing services, runs what he describes as a charisma masterclass. This involves counselling CEOs, entrepreneurs, and aspirational executives on how to be more charismatic.
I’ll admit I went into the session hoping I’d leave being able to hold an audience like Oprah Winfrey. But Reid was quick to set me straight when we sat down before starting the session.
“There is no universal definition of charisma,” he said. “Charisma is about more than charm … It’s about how you make people feel.” Charismatic people are memorable, they’re unique, Reid said. And importantly, they’re purposeful, intentional, and consistent, he added.
It’s about being in control of the situation and leaving people with the impression that you want them to have, according to Reid. “Sometimes you might want someone to feel uncomfortable, but the important thing is that it’s what you want to do,” he said.
First, we focused on how I’m perceived.
We started the session with an exercise focusing on the perception that I wanted to give other people.
He asked me to talk for a couple of minutes about something that was important to me, then gave me feedback.
I talked about my job, and tried to explain that I enjoyed the role because it enabled me to help people by giving them careers advice. It was a bit tangential. I would lose the flow of sentences halfway through.
“It’s very common for people to struggle with their sentence structure,” Reid said. “Especially when they’re put on the spot.”
Anyone widely considered to be charismatic uses short sentences when they’re speaking, he said. They also avoid using filler words and add pauses after important phrases to add gravitas. Barack Obama represents one of the best examples of this, Reid said.
Before approaching any conversation, think about the three things that you want to leave people with, he added.
Then we worked on my “internal world.”
The second part of the masterclass was about managing stress and emotions.
“Even if you’ve got a strong sense of who you are at your best and what your brand is, a lot of the time that will get impacted by what’s happening for it emotionally,” Reid said.
He taught me a simple “4-4-6” breathing exercise to cope with stress. This involved breathing in for four seconds, holding it for four seconds, then breathing out for six seconds. It’s a technique that can give you a mental pause, according to Reid.
Some of Reid’s other advice focused on composure. Taking a drink of water or simply pausing – counting to three in your head – before delivering a point can give you time to think.
Over the next week, I put some of his advice to the test.
I was never going to walk out of the room feeling like a new man after an hour-long session, but I definitely feel more self-aware about the impression I’m leaving people with.
This had an initial downside. At first, I felt very clunky. I was conscious about intentionally making pauses, avoiding filler words, and how I held my hands when I was speaking – but it got easier with practice.
I also feel a bit more equipped to deal with potential stressors that could throw me off track. For example, when getting close to a deadline, I’ll usually get panicky – which makes me feel more stressed. Practicing his breathing technique helped me feel more in control.
Whether that’s made me more appear more charismatic is hard to say, but it’s definitely a good start.