Beyond emotional expressiveness


shadows (4)

Artwork by S.L. Listman

Businesses are eagerly attempting to model their upper level management into a more charismatic group. What message is necessary to enhance their influence? And what is the cost of doing this? According to a recent study at the University of Lausanne, managers at Swiss companies learned charismatic leadership through multiple sessions of instruction, reflection and practice over a 3 month period. The change in the perception of their leadership ability by others was not sudden and was not great. According to this study:

“Our results also showed that a substantial investment must be made to produce medium effects.”[1]

The specific skills taught in to improve how much managers could “inspire” others to buy in to their ideas were based on characteristics that have long been connected with charisma.  Of course methods of non-verbal influencing, like showing emotional expressiveness were high one this list. But the managers were also taught what they needed to talk about.

Charismatic leaders much show solidarity with the people in order to win their approval. They must be seen as representative of the group. If a leader wishes to be a pathfinder, out of in front of the crowd, the crowd will not perceive them to be as appealing.  People want to know that their leader shares their sentiments and feels the same way that they do. So it was essential for the managers in the research to learn to talk about what they had in common with the people followers.

Ask the average Joe on the street what makes a good leader and a frequent answer will be high confidence. Not only does the leader have to show confidence he must express the high standards that he holds for himself.  These high standards must be extended to the followers along the confidence that the followers can meet them. This results is pressure not only to perform, but also to appear to belong.

Finally one of the most important rules of speaking to enhance charisma is to make statements that show moral conviction. Leaders initially they gained sway over their audiences by appealing to the moral high ground.[2] Of course, supporting one stance of behavior means rejecting another. The more emotional the appeal of the leader, the more influential the leader is. Also, the more likely the followers will act harshly against those they reject due to a perceived lack morality.

Each of the characteristics must be balanced in to order not to create an “us against them” culture with people who are  not that much different than the leader’s group. One of the problems with a charismatic leader in politics is that an appeal to prejudice against the common enemies is often a way to rise to fame.  And in business it is not always that much different.

[1] Antonakis, J., Fenley, M., & Liechti, S., Can Charisma Be Taught? Tests of Two Interventions. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2011, Vol. 10, No. 3, 374–396
[2] Howell, J. M., & Frost, P. J. 1989. A laboratory study of charismatic leadership. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 43: 243–26


This entry was posted in communication, Emotional intelligence, Leadership, Manipulation, Persuasion. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s