I was reading a heart-warming story reported by the BBC of a unique case of a young woman who had a heart transplant at the age of two, and when, ten years later, her adolescent body began to reject the heart, the transplant was removed, and her original heart, which had been resting for ten years, was able to take over. A medical first, but that was not what attracted my attention. Neither was it the lymphoma that she developed several years ago, perhaps because of the original illness that damaged her heart, or perhaps because of the anti-rejection medicines that she has had to take all these years.
It was instead the smiling face of Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub (I just love the pictures of him here.) who did the original operation and who consulted on this new operation. He recently turned 70 and no longer operates himself. I cast my mind back almost 25 years, when I was working at the National Heart Hospital in London and first met him. There are two things that I remember about him. The first is that he was the person who allowed me to show the successful use of acupuncture to treat people who had gone through open-heart surgery, and still had pain in their chests. And the second is the reason for today’s item: Magdi had the most extraordinary personal “Presence.” When he walked in a room, everyone would notice him. Most had no idea who he was, or his extraordinary achievements; they were just drawn to him.
I have met many people who have this “presence” or “aura.” In the Eastern world it is often thought of as another manifestation of “Qi.” Closely related to “presence” is charisma: a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. In the ancient world charisma was thought to be a divine power or talent, and the word comes from the Greek word kharis meaning “grace” or “favor.” There is a small scientific literature on this phenomenon of charisma, which often flows from having a strong presence. Some of the research is summarized here.
There are clearly many types of charisma: Political, sports, performance, business, spiritual, literary. scientific and so on. The only two people whom I’ve met who knew Einstein told me that people would usually all stand up when he entered the room. Charisma is more than just a personal characteristic; it can also be conceptualized as the way in which certain groups interact with each other. There is a fascinating book entitled Charisma and Social Structure by Raymond Trevor Bradley, that has a fascinating discussion of the transformative and transcendent power of charisma. It must also not be forgotten that there are those who have used charisma for evil ends: three of the most wicked people of the last century were also possessed of extraordinary personal charisma.
Clearly some people have presence and charisma. The question is whether theses characteristics can also be developed. The answer is yes, they can be. Presence is created by an overall impression constituted of posture, eye contact, stillness, silence, self-confidence, competence and serenity. People with a strong presence are often a little mysterious, in the sense that they tend not to reveal much about themselves or their accomplishments. I have also felt if very strongly in people who have worked to develop the subtle systems of their bodies. One of the most potent examples was a Korean Ki-Master who spoke not a word of English, but whose presence could be felt the moment he entered a packed room. Work on your subtle systems will likely cause you to be more still and serene and to have a better posture and that's a great start.
There are a number of things that you can do to improve your own charisma:
- Create a strong first impression by developing your presence
- Develop a good impression when you speak
- Be a good active empathic listener who connects with other people and asks pertinent questions
- Be supportive of other people and their aspirations
- Be persuasive
- Be resilient and adaptable
- Expand your vision of what is possible
- Practice thinking creatively
- Use humor
- Be committed and courageous
- Initiate persistent action
- Instill hope in the people around you