Director Maynard Leigh Associates
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Can You Fake Charisma?

6th May 2011
Director Maynard Leigh Associates
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Approximate reading time: 2.3 minutes

Can you fake charisma? According to Carol Kinsey Goman you can! She is a self-styled charisma expert and author of a book on body language for leaders.

Well I don’t believe it, and what is more, the tone Ms Goman’s adopts leave me feeling slightly sick.

Trumpeting a fake approach makes it all sound like artifice and tricks. What her article says in theory works, however it is essentially aimed at people who hope that they can get away with being charismatic at a purely superficial level. 

If that is what happens, then they will indeed come across as false and unbelievable.

Her first suggestion for faking it is to use a version of what is called Method acting.

Pioneered by Stanislavski, you tap into a past emotion or experience and then relive it to the full. The result is that in theory, your subsequent effort to appear more charismatic may seem more authentic.

Acting though has changed in recent years, and there is a great deal of commitment to truthfulness 100% of the time.  Reality TV has contributed to this.  So in this sense charisma is not something shuffled on and off like a raincoat. Instead, to make it work you need to find your own brand of it that integrates with every situation in your life.

Why do the polls in the UK tell us that we no longer have any faith in our politicians? It is seldom because they lack charisma, though that adds to the mistrust. It is that we do not believe entirely in the charisma they do portray. There is indeed something fake or tricky about it.

The other idea Ms Goman suggests for faking charisma is to adopt an "as if ........" approach to difficult situations.

For instance behave as if you are confident, even if you don't feel it. Choose somebody you admire who works well in this situation and behave as if you are them.

This approach is along the lines of the familiar "fake it until you make it". 

Anything that boosts your confidence is likely to support your charisma, but without a natural integrity to it the audience will quickly detect you are pretending. Just because you superficially sound confident for example, does not mean that is how it actually lands with people.

Charisma depends heavily on three key factors, what you want your charisma to achieve (Aim), Being Yourself and Personal chemistry. In particular the latter involves rapport, empathy and the use of emotional intelligence. You simply do not control personal chemistry, you can merely influence it.

Advocating that you can teach someone to fake charisma says a lot about the coach.  Promoting an approach that lacks integrity and respect for those on the receiving end cannot be a sound formula for personal growth and development.

Long term it will surely disappoint those who try it, and will surely do damage to this particular coach’s personal reputation.

As an author myself of a book on charisma, I probably have a rather biased view. But what do you think? Can we really teach people to fake charisma and should experts in helping others to develop themselves be boasting of how they can help them fake it?

Andrew Leigh is author of The Charisma Effect, published by Pearson in 2008 and currently translated into over 20 languages around the world. A revised edition will be published towards the end of this year.


Thanks to Michael Maynard and Barbara Thorn of Maynard Leigh Associates for their contributions on this topic,


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