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Stuart Woods

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Can we teach charisma?

Teaching tomorrow's adults how to relate to others must go beyond basic courtesy and manners. 'Soft skills' education attempts to addresses many of these but never really tackle the quality called charisma.
We hear of it in many successful people who are doing great things using this attribute but if we are born with or without it, can we ever close the gap?
I'm really interested in what people think.

By definition charisma is :

A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm

Personal magnetism

A personal quality or power of an individual making them capable of influencing or inspiring large numbers of people

A quality inherent in a thing which inspires great enthusiasm

If charisma is directly linked to leadership then I believe our young people should be made aware so that their leadership skills best benefit themselves and their community. Can children grow to be leaders (on any level) without charisma? If not, is it teachable? Are educators missing the fundamental element of recognizing the power an individual can have to change things for the better when they find or seek opportunities to do so. To be sure what I'm not saying is extroverts reign in the charisma stakes. I value the quiet, contemplative students as much as the verbal and gregarious ones. Is charisma so rare and elusive (a limited amount so only a few people in every hundred can be charismatic) We just dare not talk about it until someone already exudes the quality? If we explored this with children would more of them grow up to affect greater positive influence on the world?

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Closing Statement from Stuart Woods

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this conversation. For young as well as established and experienced leaders I find the elements of personal power fascinating. In order to broaden their positive influence and make change possible I wonder how much we allow students to pursue an understanding of their personality. This is what essentially drove me to ask this question, many responses alluded to a limited number of charismatic people but I do believe children have the ability to exhibit charisma in varying degrees. I don't think it's a question of some have it and some don't.

In summing up I do think we should empower ALL personality types to find their inner magnetism, inspiration and passion which can be translated through their interactions with others to build a ethos in schools where all can influence others to achieve.

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    May 28 2012: First, we need to redefine "Charisma" based not on how observers react to it but on what the actual traits of charisma are. I'm making this list on the fly so you may not agree with these traits or I may have missed some that you feel should be on here.

    1. Confidence - Ever notice that people with average looks can sometimes be more attractive than physically beautiful people? I believe this to be the effect of Self-confidence. And where does self-confidence come from? Not from thin air but from really knowing you can do something. Whether it be martial arts, sports, romance, politics or life in general, these are fields that can me mastered and therefore have confidence in.

    2. Wit - If there's one thing charismatic people aren't, it's boring. The ability be funny on your feet is a great skill to have when you're trying to charm, persuade or make people feel at ease.

    3. Great Public Speaking Skills - Not sure of this should be on the list as charismatic people are so whether they are on stage in front of a crowd or just standing with a bunch of people. But at the very least, it helps to be able to speak well or have awesome communication skills.

    4. The Ability to Lead - Again, not sure if this is a non-negotiable. Maybe this is more of a "True-leader" trait but I think charismatic people are able to persuade people to follow him/her. Whether or not they lead people to positive results is another debate. Though some are born leaders, others grow into it or are trained for it.

    6. Authenticity - I think we can usually spot insincerity versus authenticity even if subconsciously. And I think true authenticity and vulnerability can move our emotions and inspire action and devotion.

    The caveat is that while all these traits can be learned, they can also be faked. Confidence can be feigned, humor can be rehearsed, speaking can be practiced, the authority to lead can be bestowed and one can act authentic. So whether real or fabricated, yes charisma can be learned.
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      May 28 2012: Thanks Ramen, great detail here. I read a book recently where the author describes charisma on a SCALE rather than the 'haves and have nots' I'd never considered this before.
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    May 18 2012: It's interesting that the 4 definitions you cite are all responses from the observer/participant to someone 'charismatic'. It's a characteristic of 'others' responses to the quality, not a quality directly influencing the one who has it. Therefore I assume that the effect of being charismatic is the evocation of something that someone else possesses. What is it, then, that resonates within that 'other person' when they contact someone 'charismatic'? Is it a vibration? Is it a wave? Similar to 'love at first sight', but not the same, one's inner modes of trust, admiration, and wanting to be near the C person is activated. So can it be taught? Maybe. But what is it within us that opens to the C person and allows such a willingness to give of ourselves? I believe there must be some sort of 'physical' connection, but maybe also their words are the ones we feel but just don't say.
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      May 18 2012: Thank you for a thought provoking response. I see what you mean. What is aroused in the observer which makes them think/feel the person IS charismatic? I do think that charisma positively changes how someone feels about themselves which suggests it is a PROJECTED AFFIRMATION. Does that begin to determine something ?
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    May 31 2012: No, I do not think we can teach charisma but we can teach people how to imitate it in greater and lessor ways. Maybe we should teach how to think beyond charima or charm. Charm is a significant characteeristic of psychopath.
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    May 26 2012: Any further contributions welcome folks! I think this is not as clear cut as it first seems.
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    May 20 2012: All good politicians and con men have it and learning to fake sincerity is the hardest but we have seen it mastered. All the best. Bob
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      May 20 2012: Thanks Robert, so charisma is directly linked to sincerity then?

      Yes, faking it undermines authentic charisma. Fools in the short term but eventually reveals itself as fraudulent.
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        May 20 2012: Certainly sincerity is a part of obtaining the trust that charismatic people invite. The few charismaic people I have encountered make you want to hitch your fate on their shooting star. This quality is so rare that I do not believe it is manufactured or taught. It is, however, possible that time and circumstances are players in the percieved charisma. Under certain conditions we may follow one person when under other conditions he may go unnoticed. Just a thought. All the best. Bob
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    May 19 2012: (in reply to PROJECTION AFFIRMATION): Yes, i believe it would. A projected affirmation. Yet, unintentionally projected, because I would assume that the 'charismatic' person is unaware how they do it, just that they do. Being in drama, you have a unique perspective on this phenomenon probably having dealt with many charismatic people. But just like beauty, could this seeming 'gift' also be a hindrance to personal develpment to the uninitiated? Have you seen where some people who have the gift of 'charism' rely too heavily on it and neglect other significant talents or abilities they may possess? This may be where the 'teaching' comes in...
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      May 19 2012: Interesting. I have seen a few examples of students who definitely have what might be charisma but appear to use it conspicuously and forcibly to assert their will. These are, it has to be said in the minority. You raise a good point, uninitiated use can be harmful, overstepping boundaries for example. So maybe charisma only comes with maturity, maybe youthful charisma is simply charm?

      I read a definition of charisma compared to charm which said charismatic people leave their energy with others when they leave the room whilst charming people take it with them. I thought that was quite good.
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    May 18 2012: The answer to this question depends on the students/learner. If something is taught,could it be said to be learnt if not applied for change and results?
    People can be enlightened on the habits,practices and discipline of the best examples of men/women of charisma. The lot now falls on them to apply this by changing themselves and their approach to human relations. To a large extent those who have charisma have been successful in communication,and a mass of people listened to them because they did something right.
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      May 18 2012: Thanks, so are you saying it could be taught but the measure of it would be if students put it into practice? I think this is the same for teaching anything though. With specific regard to charisma, how would we determine a baseline starting point for learning (I’m keen to deliberately avoid the word assessment here!) and what would the structure of the learning look like? Is it just too elusive to pin down?