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I wasn’t in the mood for small talk. I’d planned to use my early-morning flight from San Francisco to New York to catch up on emails and put finishing touches on a presentation.
So, naturally, I found myself seated next to a friendly traveler who started a conversation with me as soon as I pulled my laptop out of my bag.
“6 AM flights are the worst,” she said with a grin. “What are you headed out east for?”
I told her about the potential clients in NYC and my looming presentation, hoping she’d get the point.
Instead, she empathized, sharing that her palms always sweat before presentations, and that she pretends the nervousness is excitement to make it through. “A few minutes in, and you’ll feel like you’re with old friends,” she said with a laugh. “So definitely don’t imagine them in their underwear.”
During the descent, my seatmate and I exchanged cards. I hadn’t made the connection at first, but I immediately recognized her name: She, too, was the CEO of a tech startup in the Bay Area, and she’d recently secured funding from well-known investors.
After our in-flight conversation, I understood what kept me listening to her instead of working on my presentation: She had charisma.
Why entrepreneurs need charisma
Anyone can come up with an innovative idea for a business. To succeed, entrepreneurs also need to convince people to get excited about the vision.
Think about the most successful people in your industry. Successful entrepreneurs don’t do the work solo; they build teams that work hard because they believe in what they’re doing.
As one corporate coach explains, “As an entrepreneur and leader, one needs manpower. And these people take care of your business, when it comes to keeping your customers satisfied and happy with products and services.”
In other words, charismatic people can assemble groups. But it’s not just about building an amazing team. Landing investors, establishing a customer base, and building trust with the public all requires buy-in, which doesn’t just happen because you have a convincing story and a fancy slide deck.
Charisma, or the ability to combine your confidence with warmth, is what draws people into your great idea and keeps them there. Magnetism isn’t just about charm, but sparking authentic connections with people, as my charismatic seatmate did on the early morning flight.
It might feel counterintuitive to focus more on people than numbers, but if you’re looking for long-term growth and success, building authentic relationships is the best way to build a business.
The good news is, researchers believe charisma is 50% inherent and 50% learned. So if this doesn’t come naturally to you, you can learn it. Here are some of the most effective ways to grow in charisma so you can grow your business along the way.
1. Nurture your relationships
Step one to growing in charisma: Care about people.
People can see through hollow charm, and they can feel when they’re being used. So instead of empty lip service, focus on building real relationships with people you know and people you meet.
Chances are, you already care about the people in your life. You might just need an extra push to show them.
The simplest way to do that? Really listen. Ask questions, and pay attention to what’s beneath the surface. Remember the small details, like your co-worker’s birthday or your client’s favorite coffee order.
What was so striking about my airplane chat was that my seatmate was actually paying attention. She noticed I was a bit anxious about my presentation, so she empathized with and encouraged me.
Nurturing relationships is also about helping people grow. We all want to be around people who challenge us, encourage us, and help us become the best versions of ourselves.
When you notice what makes other people tick because you genuinely care, you can draw them into an activity connected to their passions — where they’ll be most effective and contribute most authentically.
2. Project confidence
Early on in my career, an old college classmate reached out to share a business idea with me with the hope I’d work with him. We emailed back and forth, and as much as I admired his excitement, I wasn’t sold.
“So are you planning to bootstrap or get investments?” I asked, curious about his plan for getting started.
“I’m not sure yet,” he replied. “But there’s a market for my idea, so I know it’ll work out.”
It didn’t work out, and needless to say, I didn’t quit my job to help him.
To promote buy-in, you need to project confidence. People follow passionate leaders who know where they’re going.
A 2017 article in The Guardian captures it well:
“The charismatic can infect others with their own enthusiasm. They convince us, not only of their own self-belief, but make us feel more confident in ourselves too. As an entrepreneur, charisma is a winning formula for your personal brand. If you exude self-belief, angel investors, prospective clients, and the press will see your potential and be more included to invest in your story.”
Keep in mind that confidence doesn’t mean perfection. You don’t have to have it all together. The key isn’t to project the lie that you won’t make mistakes, but that you’ll figure out how to navigate those mistakes because you’re invested in your vision and the people who contribute to it.
3. Find the sweet spot
Just as too little charisma can impact your growth as an entrepreneur, so can too much of it. A recent study from Ghent University found that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to charisma in leaders.
Researchers found that when charisma increased in a leader, so did employees’ perception of their effectiveness. But leaders with both low and high charisma scores were viewed as less effective than those with “moderate” levels of charisma.
Why? People view their leaders as most effective when they can adapt to challenges. If your charisma is too low, you may not be as strategic and aggressive. On the flipside, if you’re too charming and people-focused, people might perceive you as lacking in actual job-related skills.
So while investing time and energy in your confidence and people skills can help your business, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your actual work. For all the time you spend networking and nurturing relationships, invest as much time with your head down, figuring out solutions and developing your product or service.
Like many areas of life, success in entrepreneurship is all about balance. None of us can do it perfectly, and your focus will naturally ebb and flow as your business grows. Start by giving your full attention to what’s — or who’s — in front of you.