Think about the space industry for a second; one of the world’s most expensive, complex, and bureaucratic industries you can find. Now, imagine one day a software wiz kid decides he wants to start building rockets and compete against large competitors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Although he had no experience in the space industry, after 15 years and billions of dollars spent, this entrepreneur succeeds on disrupting the whole industry, defeating its competitors along the way.
As you can imagine by now, the entrepreneur I’m talking about is Elon Musk. Not only has he disrupted the space industry, but he also changed the financial industry with PayPal, the automobile industry with Tesla Inc., and the renewable energy industry with SolarCity. If there’s one common attribute among all Elon Musk’s successes it’s his charisma.
If you see Elon Musk and wish you had his charismatic personality, don’t despair. Elon Musk wasn’t born charismatic. All you need is learn how to develop your charisma, just like Elon Musk did.
Hit the right level of charisma
When Elon Musk speaks at a press conference, he’s far from looking like Steve Jobs, the classic example of a charismatic CEO. He talks like a normal person would. It turns out having moderate levels of charisma, like Elon, is a good thing. According to a study from Ghent University, it’s more important for CEOs to have a “good enough” level of charisma that fits their personalities best than trying to force looking charismatic.
Researchers measured different charismatic personality traits using 56 questions from the Hogan Development Survey. Researchers then compared the scores from 600 business leaders with their effectiveness rated by their superiors, peers, and subordinates.
They found charisma has diminishing marginal returns; as charisma increased, so did perceived effectiveness, but only up to a point. After a certain point, as charisma scores continued to increase, perceived effectiveness started to decline. “Leaders with both low and high charismatic personalities were perceived as being less effective than leaders with moderate levels of charisma,” said Filip De Fruyt Ph.D., one of the co-authors of the study.
The less charismatic leaders ended up being seen as less effective due to lacking in the vision and strategy, while the more charismatic ones were scored lower due to their weakness in operations. Having a good mix of both vision and execution, as seen in moderately charismatic leaders, seems to be one of the secrets behind Elon’s success.
“You want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse.” – Elon Musk
Have a presence
One common element among all charismatic CEOs is their presence. According to Amy Cuddy, Harvard psychologist and author of the book by the same name, presence is “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.” Presence is “confidence without arrogance.” It is all about being in the moment.
Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, considers Elon Musk as a prime example of someone who has mastered the art of charismatic presence. Despite the fact he’s naturally introverted, he can show high levels of intense focus and presence when he speaks. When he speaks to someone, he gives his full attention to a few people, which makes people feel like they are special. Other charismatic leaders that were famous for their intense focus were Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy.
To develop presence, Cuddy recommends two exercises. The first one is called “power posing,” which consists on adopting the body language of other powerful people, so you feel and act more confident. The second one, self-affirmation, consists on writing down your core values and why they’re meaningful to you.
Take a look at the life of Elon Musk, and you will see in each of his successes he had to overcome a myriad of nerve-wracking challenges. His challenges include avoiding a near bankruptcy by a matter of days and building two separate companies while going through a messy public divorce with his first wife, Justine.
Antonio Gracias, an investor in both Tesla and SpaceX, said Elon Musk: “has the ability to work harder and endure more stress than anyone I’ve ever met. The harder it gets, the better he gets.” After all his setbacks and mistakes, Tesla is valued at over $56 billion, whereas SpaceX is valued at $21 billion.
The only way he was able to keep his companies afloat was his conviction. According to Charlie Houpert, author of Charisma on Command, “conviction is the heart of charisma. It is the belief that things will work out. It’s the belief that somehow, someway your goals will be achieved. It’s being sure of yourself in the face of the unknown“.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” – Elon Musk
The only way you can build conviction like Elon Musk is by believing in yourself regardless of what other people think. Build conviction in everything you do and people will follow you.
Developing charisma is like learning a skill because there are no shortcuts and it takes time. With the right attitude, which includes patience and perseverance, it can be developed. Elon Musk was able to develop his charisma just like he was able to build his company, step by step, mistake after mistake. Follow his steps, and you will be able to develop charisma to become a more effective leader in your own life.