As I travel around the country speaking within organisations, and increasingly these days, at CEO groups, I regularly come across leaders who feel ’less than comfortable’ when they see the part of my charisma definition that mentions ‘heart’. Many organisations already have strong and robust processes in place to build employee engagement, and leadership teams who are generally good at winning the ‘minds’ of their people. However, engagement and motivation are primarily emotional responses – an unconscious deep-seated desire to work with heart and soul for the benefit of our leader and our group. When leaders cannot communicate with their heart, and find it difficult to express their emotional side, they generally struggle to create emotional engagement and often encounter far more resistance to change than they really need to.
There is a scientific explanation that supports why leaders who evoke a positive emotional response attract followship. The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves originating at the top of the spinal cord. It activates responses in different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive system). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling best described as a warm expansion of the chest – for example when we feel moved by someone’s goodness, or when we appreciate a particularly beautiful piece of music. Neuroscientist Stephen W. Porges of the University of Illinois in Chicago refers to the vagus nerve as ‘the nerve of compassion’. This is because it stimulates certain muscles in the vocal chamber enabling communication, and at the same time reduces the heart rate to promote a feeling of calm. Other studies suggest that there is a connection with the vagus nerve and oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with trust and maternal bonding. Consequently the vagus nerve is largely responsible for feelings of caretaking and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share in common. People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state are more likely to be altruistic, compassionate, and feel gratitude, love and happiness. More likely in fact, to feel emotionally engaged.
I read a report recently about a high-powered city businesswoman who has had extensive botox treatment specifically so that she can look ‘neutral’ in meetings – fearing that her emotions may betray what she really feels inside. It struck me as intensely sad that, still, in some corporate arenas, it is not politically correct to show any emotion – any sign of weakness.
The good news is that in order to increase your charisma you don’t need to learn anything new, or employ devices or tactics to mask your feelings. You simply have to feel comfortable being you, embrace your ability to connect with your emotions, and do what you really love doing! Although this sounds simplistic, years of environmental conditioning stops us from allowing our softer and therefore more vulnerable side to show. It takes real courage to remain fundamentally true to who we really are inside, but if we allow people to see the real us, the results can be amazing.
“Charisma is an authentic power that captivates the hearts and minds of others.”
Nikki Owen, Founder of The Charisma Model Programme