The Charisma Makeover

Photograph by Miramax

Can charisma be studied like acting? Executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane is the author of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism.

Cabane, 33, explains that charisma is built of three main components—presence, power, and warmth. She uses behavioral science techniques to help clients improve their ability to influence and inspire others. TMB put the author’s “anyone” claim to the test by asking her to give a charisma makeover to several business leaders who, let’s just say, lack the “the gift of grace.”

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder/Chief Executive Officer, Facebook

Zuckerberg comes across as awkward and not that likable. His voice lacks warmth and his eyes have that deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression, giving him a cold, standoffish appearance. His voice compounds the problem: Nasal voices can easily sound arrogant.

Charisma Makeover: I’d recommend learning to warm up his voice, speak slower, and employ more pauses. He could also bring his chin down to seem more thoughtful and help avoid giving an impression of arrogance.

John Chambers
Chairman, Cisco Systems

Chambers’s smile often seems fake: It doesn’t even reach his eyes. He speaks with a nasal tone in a clipped style that feels over-precise and over-scripted.

Charisma Makeover: He could try to increase his voice fluctuation and to avoid shallow chest-breathing (instead going for deep belly-breathing) to make his voice more resonant. In fact, what he really needs is to breathe and relax. (A drink or two before going live?) And get some pep: Jump up and down, as actors do before an audition. (Shirley Temple was known for this.)

William Weldon
Chairman, Johnson & Johnson

Weldon has an “aw, shucks” speaking style, often out of one side of his mouth. His micro-expressions are good; he comes across as reliable and trustworthy. But he lacks energy.

Charisma Makeover: He’s better when he leans forward. But for a real boost, he needs to project passion. He should consider taking up tango—seriously.

Bob Diamond
Chief Executive, Barclays

Diamond’s eyes can be quite warm and—though his smile can be a bit awkward—it comes across as genuine. But when he’s not smiling, he appears rather flat—your average, boring banker. (Sorry, guys.) Worse yet, he can be quite awkward when in a difficult conversation. (See the BBC interview about his bonus; he comes across as insincere, unlikable, and downright patronizing.)

Charisma Makeover: Diamond can appear more modest—and interested in what others are saying—by altering his body language and pausing longer before answering. A two-second pause is what you want; anything longer gets weird. Former President Bill Clinton does this extremely well.

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