Five Secrets of Charismatic Leadership

Displaying charismatic leadership is one of the most effective ways to boost everything from motivation and creativity to productivity and plain old satisfaction. Whether it stems from low morale at the office, high anxiety at home, or a lack of clear direction from the top, far too many employees feel like they're stuck in a boat without a paddle. It's the manager's job to get those employees rowing again. But what if you fall somewhere between Ben Stein and Alan Greenspan on the charisma scale?

The good news is that you are not doomed to fail as a leader. A new study shows that the more reserved style of introverted leaders can actually inspire better performance in followers. Researchers Adam Grant of the Wharton School, Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, and David Hofmann at the University of North Carolina found that if the employees are an extroverted, proactive bunch by nature, the team will perform better under the leadership of an introvert than under an extrovert. Introverted leaders are more likely to take a team approach to problem-solving and to let talented team members spread their wings.

The bad news is that not all work groups are composed of take-charge kinds of people. If you need to light a fire under a more reserved group, a little charisma in your messaging can go a long way.

According to communication experts and film directors Dean Hyers and Pete Machalek, the first thing you have to do is couch your message in a story form. "People are, and always have been, programmed to hear, remember, and most importantly act on messages delivered in story structure," Machalek says. That's why messages ranging from infomercials and Hollywood blockbusters to compelling letters and inspirational speeches all include four basic components: a main character, a not-so-happy beginning, an action sequence, and a happy ending. Hyers and Machalek contend that all charismatic messages follow that structure, whether they're delivered at an annual gathering, a Monday morning status meeting, or via e-mail.

The Charismatic Narrative

For more than a decade, Hyers and Machalek's company Sage Presence has been teaching everyone from government spies to middle managers how to influence and inspire using that simple structure. The best part is that anyone—even introverted leaders—can use this structure to present a charismatic message.

Just follow these five steps:

1. Define the main character. (Hint: It's not you.)

Your story must be about your audience or about someone your audience cares about. The temptation for most of us is to make the story about our own needs or about the company's needs. "If you wonder why your employees or your boss [aren't] listening to you, it's almost always because you're trying to tell them your story about what you did or what you need, " says Machalek. "You have to remember that it's not about your story, it's about their story."

2. Describe the happy ending.

You don't need to reinvent the Internet here. This can be as simple as: "You all get raises this year;" "your jobs are secure; " or "it'll be fun to come to work again."

3. Describe the not-so-happy beginning.

You might describe this situation roughly as: "Right now, you're unsure about where your job will be in six months" or "you're having a hard time staying motivated."

4. Describe what action you want them to take.

Spell out exactly how to go from the unpleasant beginning to the happy ending. What is it you want them to do? Pitch in to help each other? Give greater effort? Be more positive? Get behind your new strategy for the department? Whatever that action is, name it clearly.

5. Just add watery eyes.

By this point, you will now have the logical framework for a compelling story. Still, people are people and emotions are essential to motivate and influence them. A few years ago, organizational psychologists Joyce Bono of the University of Minnesota and Remus Ilies of Michigan State University discovered that emotions are a key component of charisma. Bono and Ilies found that charismatic leaders infect their teams with positive emotions simply by using positive emotional language. What that means is that charisma doesn't require raucous speeches or the kissing of babies.

Using Emotions to Rouse the Team

Charisma can be conveyed simply by using emotional words. Incorporate such words as nervous, afraid, and frustrated to heat up your descriptions of the not-so-happy beginning, and then use words like excited, confident, proud, and peaceful to make the happy ending feel happier. The goal is to create a stark contrast between the unpleasant feeling of the place they are currently in and the wonderful place they can go to if they do what you ask.

When you put it all together, you'll have a clear, powerful message that your people can rally around—one that goes something like this:

"I know you're all feeling nervous and helpless right now, wondering what's going to happen with your job in the next few months. If you remember to keep asking yourself, "what can I do to help somebody else right now," you will start feeling confident and excited about your work again."

The following is likely apocryphal, though nonetheless telling. It is said that when the ancient Roman orator Cicero spoke, people said to one another: "Great speech." When the ancient Greek Demosthenes spoke, people said: "Let us march."

As a manager today, your job is not to impress employees with your winning personality or your entertaining commentary. Your job is to motivate them to act. Even if you don't naturally ooze charisma, if you put a story structure into your next e-mail or your next meeting intro, your people will take the confident, focused action that's necessary to get back on track.

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