The Charisma Myth

26 Jan

Episode 54

It’s time for another book review! Since, it’s still January, the month of recaps, let’s recap what I’ve reviewed so far. There were four books:

  • Episode 40: Building Microservices
  • Episode 25: Software Craftsman: Professionalism, Pragmatism, Pride
  • Episode 23: Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative
  • Episode 17: Secrets of the Rock Star Programmers

What they all have in common? Well, they are about software development. Today, we are going to do something seemingly different. I will present you a book written by Olivia Fox Cabane, a person who has pretty much nothing to do with our industry. The book is called The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. It’s a good book. And damn useful in software development.

What if charisma can be taught?

the-charisma-mythThere are people with magnetic presence, who are influential, inspiring, persuasive, charming and able to harvest the undivided attention of crowds. The common understanding is, that it’s a gift, a talent or an innate ability. You just either have it or not.

The common understanding is wrong. In the book, Olivia explains that charisma is simply a skill. Of course, different people have different degrees of talents toward learning particular skills, but nevertheless – it can be trained. Perhaps not everyone can be a master, but hey, being an expert or even decent at it can make great deal of difference in your life, both private and professional. Maybe you are not a politician, show host or CEO, but you usually deal with people to some degree (please get out of the cave…). And when being development team member or leader, scrum master, manager, product owner, administrator or whoever in IT, you benefit from charisma. If you help new people around, conduct a programming training, give a speech on tech conference or go talk with your boss about pay rise, you benefit from charisma. Let’s see how to get there.

The theory and the practice

The book takes you on a journey on many aspects of charisma across thirteen chapters. It starts with the premise I gave you, goes through three key ingredients of charisma, the obstacles that will undermine them, the ways to deal with those obstacles, the right mental states, various charisma styles, first impressions, speaking, listening, body language, overcoming crisis and difficult situations, public presentations and finally: the dark side of the force. Let’s look at some of the chapters:


The Charismatic Behaviors

There are three essential components of charisma: presence, power and warmth. Presence is about the need to pay attention to what’s going on, so the audience feels listened to, respected and valued. Power is a measure of how much you can influence the reality around you, and warmth is if this influence is perceived as good or bad. You transmit all this through body language, and since your mind can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, if you enter the right mental state, the body language will follow naturally.

The Obstacles to Presence, Power and Warmth

As the mental state is crucial, any internal discomfort affecting it, will immediately impair the body language. This discomfort can be physical, like the sun shining in your eyes or mental like fear for something to happen. You can take this stuff into consideration and plan ahead, for example, simply sit away from the damn sun. There are techniques to deal with mental discomfort, like responsibility transfer. In general, try to prevent what you are able to anticipate, recognize if and how something is going badly, physically remedy if you can or mentally shield yourself if you can’t.

Overcoming the obstacles

More details on how to deal with mental discomfort. Destigmatize it, neutralize negative thoughts, rewrite the perception of reality. People have a lot of “legacy code” in their brains that woks on a lower level of abstraction and might be a problem in times, when being eaten by a tiger is not that likely to happen. This stuff can be overridden to some extent to give you back the control over the situation. The perception of reality can be very different depending on many factors and influence your behavior dramatically, so learning to consciously alter the perception, or rewrite it, has powerful effects.


Different Charisma styles

There are many different styles of charisma that emphasizes some components more than others. There is authority charisma based on confidence (e.g. Colin Powell or Winston Churchill). There is visionary charisma based on belief (e.g. Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King Jr.). There is focus charisma based on presence (e.g. Gandhi or Bill Gates). There is kindness charisma based on caring (e.g. Mother Theresa or Princess Diana). There are more. It’s good to choose style that naturally fits you, however the more styles you are familiar with, the more versatile you can be in different situations.

And there are nine other chapters to it.

Skills can be trained, go be charismatic!

Like what you read? Then read the damn book and make use of it. If you are not that much into reading, there are a lot of Olivia’s talks on YouTube, you can start with this one here. The book is not a psychology textbook. It reads lightly, has some exercises and nice summaries after each chapter, so the chances to remember something are good. As I said, I think that it’s a book for everyone, because everyone deals with people to some extents. If you think, that you are only good with machines, and there is no freaking way to change that, give it a try, perhaps you will be surprised. From software development perspective, the book might be especially useful for someone who trains people or talks publicly, but really, whatever you do there: it’s for you.

Keep calm, and read books. See you next week!

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Posted by on January 26, 2017 in Books


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