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Charisma Questions and Answers From Olivia Fox Cabane

by | Aug 20, 2012 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

If you are just tuning in to our Charisma Experiment, a group of my readers and I have been on a journey exploring the concepts and techniques discussed in Olivia Fox Cabane’s book, The Charisma Myth.

After reading the original post, Olivia graciously offered to answer questions that emerged. You can learn more about the book, the concepts, and our challenge by clicking on the above links.

This wonderful group included leaders from a variety of contexts (corporate, executive coaching, and high school). We read the book, and then each picked several techniques to use in our leadership.

Our Charisma Experiment Findings

The most frequently chosen focus areas were: strategic use of head nodding, mirroring, use of silence, and eye contact.

Some found that staying more still and nodding less made others “work a little harder” in the conversation. This resulted in deeper and more meaningful conversations. Mirroring other’s body language had a similar impact. Mirroring actions reduced inhibitions and invited others to be more open.

Use of silence and sustained eye contact were more tricky for both angles. We were tempted to fill the silence with chatter to reduce discomfort (ours or the people we are talking with). Eye contact created intimacy quickly, which can be uncomfortable, particularly in talking with people of the opposite gender. One participant tried, “counting the blinks” as Olivia suggests, and found this to help a great deal. We all recognized that there is indeed value in create more space and more connection through these techniques and will continue to leverage them.

Our Charisma Questions and Olivia’s Answers

Q: How can we be more charismatic via email?

A: By email, you’re going to be going for influence, not charisma. The best book I know on the subject is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Q; When working with your clients, what kinds of tools or techniques do you put in place to help them sustain their new behaviors over time?

A: That depends on the behavior! Many of the new behaviors are so intrinsically rewarding (you immediately see the great results they provide) that they self-reinforce. For others, each behavior has its own reinforcement.

Q: What are some ways for a leader in a position of “authority” to become more comfortable and charismatic in that “authority role” when authority charisma does not come naturally to them (they much prefer the other styles)?

A: When you’re in the situation, do the “big gorilla” exercise. You can also visualize ahead of time, pre-hearse the situation while in an assertive stance, and see it play out the way you would. You can also role-play with friends, and work on becoming comfortable with the authority stance and voice.

(a) physical: take martial arts classes. I really recommend Brazilian jiu-jitsu for this.
(b) mental: take improv classes. Learn to step into different roles.

Charisma Side Effects

A salient side effect of this work is that each of us was much more in-tune to our own actions, and were more active in seeking out feedback from others. We all agreed that staying authentic is the most vital part of any of this. Adopting techniques that do not integrate well with our true personalities will backfire and will actually diminish charisma.

One participant remarked, “I am feeling better about myself and that is making me show up stronger my team tells me they notice a difference.” Which of course is entirely the point. There is nothing more vital to charisma than coming from a confident place.


I am grateful for the open spirits and warm hearts who engaged in this journey, and took some risks by trying on new behaviors and talking about them with “strangers.” I will work to provide more opportunities for such leadership experimentation. I would appreciate your joining the conversation via comments.

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Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Steve Borek

    I really enjoyed your experiment Karin. Great job in moving forward not knowing how it was all going to play out.

    Other than sending a proposal, I avoid emails if possible.

    Did you hear about the firm Atos? Their new CEO put a stake in the ground saying they would eliminate all internal emails within 3 years. This is a company with 80K employees. There’s a leader challenging the process.

    Improv is a great way to improve mental skills. Being a theatre person, I could see how this would help a leader think on their feet.

  2. Michael Mason

    I am disappointed that “The Charisma Myth” is not available to download in the UK for the iPad, whereas it is available in the USA. I am not willing to buy any further publications in paper, for various reasons. As I would still like to read this book, it seems that the only option open to me is to seek out an illicit source of download. That is, unless you’d like to advise me that it will be available via iTunes in the UK very soon.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Hi Michael,
      Glad you are interested in the topic. I have enjoyed this book, but I actually am not involved in the publishing at all. I have read it in hard copy and it is worth the read.


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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