The Charisma Factor

What would you rather have, intelligence and beauty or charisma?

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I can tell you hands down, no questions asked, I would take charisma over basically anything—money, fame, fortune, intellect, stop-dead-in-your-tracks beauty . . .

I know that sounds a little absurd and unbelievable, maybe even a bit opportunistic, but in my opinion charisma will get you all those things and much, much more.  And in a way, that intellect and beauty can’t work for you.

Think about it, have you ever met a beautiful woman or man who was a total dud.  Not only were they just awful to be around, but as you got to know them, they became less and less attractive?

Well, charisma works in reverse.  You can take an objectively “ugly” person and make them incredibly attractive and desirable by showing him/her how to be charismatic.

The same goes for intellect. Ever meet a highly intelligent person that gets passed over time and time again for less qualified appointees? I should know, I’m a classic example of it.

I am a highly intelligent person, with an alphabet soup of credentials behind my name to prove it. I am way overqualified for half the crap I do, yet none of it has gotten me anywhere in life.  I would argue that it’s held me back in many ways.

When I worked in the hospital as a nurse practitioner, I was by far, superior in knowledge and skill in everything I did.  It was a point of pride for me. The problem was, being the best at what you do isn’t exactly the recipe for success if you don’t have some other ingredients in there.

I didn’t get this.

I was so focused on being better than everyone around me; I ended up alienating everyone around me.  No one asked me to be on committees; no one appointed me to leadership opportunities (that I clearly should have gotten), in fact, no one seemed to give a crap about how great I was or how much I did for the service.

Can you see where this is going?

In a previous post, I talked a lot about feeling angry and stuck as a nurse, and a lot of it stemmed from being passed over time and time again for opportunities.  I was stuck in the same place, doing the same thing, when I was ready for more.  In my opinion, no one cared about me.

Here’s the thing.  I was smart, intelligent, capable, but not likable.  I didn’t lead with warmth or presence.  I drove with:

“What mess can I pull you earthly slobs out of today?”  

A lot of this could be isolated back to self-esteem and confidence issues.  I needed to prove how smart I was to believe I was worthy of being where I was.  And that I was more than “just a nurse.”

It’s a tag that I’ve grabbled with for years.  It used to hang heavy on me like a weight that kept my self-confidence low enough to show up and do the work and not complain.

So when I became a nurse practitioner, it was important for me to identify with the neurosurgeons as a way of lifting my self-esteem.  I led with power.  And power for me was telling everyone what to do.

I was pretty good at that. Smart and powerful.  Good combo, right?

Well, sure if you don’t care about having friends, a good career, and happiness in your life.

It would take me a few years and a long hiatus from medicine to understand and articulate what was happening.  In short, I lacked a boatload of charisma.

Charisma isn’t about being liked or being popular, and it’s a type of magnetism that draws people to you—the type of people who want to be around you and help elevate you to the next level.  That is probably a terrible explanation, but it’s really about being connected to the people around you.

Charisma is comprised of three things—Presence, Warmth, and Power.  You need all three elements to be charismatic.  If you lead with warmth, people won’t take you seriously, with just power, people won’t like you, and with just presence, people won’t know what to do for you.

I had the power charisma down pat.  People recognized that I was in charge.

Frequently, people assumed I was the attending even when I would walk into a room with my attending.  Even though I am a woman, a nurse, and had no white coat on, my sheer presence commanded attention.  One attending asked me to tone it down a bit, which I thought was amusing.

Yes, people recognized that I was in charge, but a lot of them also thought I was an asshole, which is probably fair to say.  As one of my neurosurgeons put it—the doctors respect your knowledge, and what they do, they don’t like working with you.

That hurt.  Everyone wants to be liked.  After all, I’m just this shy, insecure person trying to make it in the world, but I overdid it in the wrong way.

What I didn’t understand was that there were two more parts to a charisma that I had completely ignored. These two parts remained undeveloped in my personality, and they were vital to my success—presence and warmth.

To have true magnetic charisma that takes you places you could never get to without, you need all three elements of charm:

1.       Power

2.       Warmth

3.       Presence

Presence and warmth are about other people, not about you.  I was all about me, and others are damned!  Yeah, that doesn’t get you very far.

Presence is about being in the moment with someone and not being quiet until it’s your turn to talk, but listening to what the person is saying—making sure that the person feels heard.

I used to make myself feel good by solving everyone’s problems or pointing out how they could solve their problems, but this only made people resentful and feel inadequate.  It was all about me when it should have been all about them.

Presence is what they teach us in nursing school.  Maybe you skimmed through that section of your textbook where we were taught active listening.  Well search out that textbook and give it some real attention, because it’s quite possibly the most important thing you will ever learn how to do.

Warmth is how you make the person feel when they interact with you.  Do you want them to feel good, happy, acknowledged?  You convey this with your eyes and your attention.  No one is feeling the warmth from you when you are texting and talking at the same time.

Ironically, the more I get into business and marketing, the more I learn how much nursing taught me if only I had just listened back then!

Also, the more I learn how to be a decent human being.  I can see where I went wrong in my younger years, and I can see why I didn’t get far in a hospital administration position.

When you are charismatic, people want to help you, they want to be around you, they want to listen to you and things starting happening.

It’s amazing, only by being interested in others, your life can change dramatically and in a way that you can’t do on your own. It’s worth every second you have to devote to learning about charisma, and I would start with Olivia Fox Cabane’s book “The Charisma Myth.” She provides tools and techniques that you start using today.  I certainly can’t do justice to her work in just one blog post, and you have to read this book.

I think nursing as a profession could benefit immensely from this book.  It’s given me the courage to stand up as a leader, and it’s given me the tools to help other nurses find the confidence they need to pursue their dreams.

In the meantime, here are a couple of techniques that you can use:

·         Power—to show power, take up space.  Stand tall, feet slightly apart, don’t fidget.  When sitting, drape your arms to the side.  Many women, in particular, tend to take up as little space as possible. Do the opposite, and you will be perceived as having confidence and power.

·         Presence—to show presence, listen attentively.  If you feel your mind drift away, think about your toes, and then come back to the speaker.  Don’t interrupt someone, even when you desperately want to add something. Let the speaker finish, pause for a count of two seconds, and then answer.  If the person interrupts you, let them do it.  They will feel heard and understood, and they will associate you with many good feelings.

·         Warmth—to show warmth, make eye contact.  Try and figure out the different colors of the person’s iris.  Be careful with this type of eye contact, especially with someone of the opposite sex!  It is powerful.  Also, remember to smile or think happy thoughts when you are speaking to someone; it will come across in your eyes.

These techniques are simple enough, but not always easy to do.  Try them out and let me know how they work for you, put your comments down below.

Catie Harris

Catie Harris, PhD, MBA, and Registered Nurse is the NursePreneur Mentor who has empowered hundreds of nurses to monetize their knowledge and skills in business, while inspiring them to change the way healthcare is perceived and delivered. Through her intensive mentorship programs, Catie shows nurses how their nursing knowledge can transcend the hospital system into a profitable business.

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