Tag Archives: The Powers That Be

Yes, You Can Develop More Charisma – But There May Be Limits

Phil and Katharine Graham on their wedding day

He was the incandescent man.  Phil Graham walked into a room and took it over, charming and seducing whomever he wished, men and women alike.  No one in Washington could match him at all, not even, in the days before he became President, John F. Kennedy.
Everyone adored Phil Graham.
David Halberstam, The Powers that Be (Phil Graham married Katharine Meyer, whose father owned the Washington Post.  She is, of course, better known as Katharine Graham).

We now understand charisma as a set of behaviors.
Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth


I’ve been thinking about charisma.  Bob Morris does not steer us (me) wrong on books, and he is high on the new book The Charisma Myth.  (read his review here).  So, I am reading it in parts, in brief moments.  I like it.  It has a lot of great, practical advice. I am looking forward to working through the specific suggestions about how to develop a charismatic presence, how to make a charismatic impact.

But, I suspect that this is like so many other things.  We can all get better; maybe noticeably better.  We can all develop some/many of these traits.  We can work on intentionally learning how to leave an impression, how to have “charisma” (the book talks about what to wear, how to develop a good handshake…  practical steps).  All of these are useful, good, helpful… and they do and will lead to greater presence, greater charisma.

But I suspect that we could work really hard at this for years and we will still not turn ourselves into a Phil Graham.  And therein lies the frustration.  We read a title like The Charisma Myth, and we inevitably start comparing ourselves to the genuine superstars.

So, here is my counsel.  Yes, you can learn to be noticed in a room.  You can learn the behaviors that will make an impact on others.  (And don’t forget to be sincere in such a pursuit, as Bob Morris warns us in his review).

But when a Phil Graham shows up, chances are he will still take the room over.  So, in the presence of a superstar, just relax and enjoy the show.


A side note:  I am asked “what is the best book you have ever read?” more times that I can count.  I find that question impossible to answer.  There are so many variables; the “place” I was in at the time of the reading; the purpose of the book, and my purpose for reading the book.  But The Powers that Be by David Halberstam would go on my short list for a book that is absolutely worth the money and time.

Here’s Something You Can “Do,” Beginning Right Now, To Help You Be More Successful In 2011 – “Look” The Part

He was the incandescent man.  Phil Graham walked into a room and took it over, charming and seducing, whomever he wished, men and women alike.  No one in Washington could match him at it, not even, in the days before he became President, John F. Kennedy.  He was handsome and slim and when he smiled, at first shy and then bold, everything stopped…
David Halberstam, The Powers That Be, introducing Phil Graham, (the husband of Katharine Graham).


Here’s a way to propel you to a better year, a year toward success, in 2011.

Act the part – look the part!

No, I’m not talking about your wardrobe, keeping your shoes shined, “dressing for success…” (although there is plenty of evidence that this also has an impact)  – I’m talking about the way you look; or, make that, I’m talking about the way people see you.

And to boil it down, it’s this:  posture, eye-contact, a sense of forceful assertiveness, all really matter.

Here’s the way Jeffrey Pfeffer put it in Power:  Why Some People Have it – And Others Don’t:

People with less power or people who didn’t feel powerful exhibited “inhibitive nonverbal behaviors,” such as shrinking in, caving in their chests, physically withdrawing, and using fewer and less forceful hand gestures…  Shrinking in and not behaving in a forceful fashion causes others to attribute less power to you, reinstating a negative cycle of behavior in which you’re not treated as powerful and you further withdraw and act powerless.

So – you can start now.  Sit up straight – stand up straight.  Look people in the eye.  Don’t be tentative.  (But, beware of the danger of coming across with arrogance).  Don’t run over people – but be, and be perceived as, overflowing with self-confidence.

This is something you can do.  In fact, it is something you have to do, to practice, every day, in every encounter, in every meeting.  Start right now.  Sit up straight.  Walk, stand, sit with purpose.  Don’t shrink in, don’t cave in your chest, don’t physically withdraw.  To be successful, it helps to look the part.  And looking the part is a series of behaviors — some things that you do.


I’m presenting my synopsis of Power this Friday at the January, 2011 First Friday Book Synopsis.  We meet at the Park City Club in University Park.  If you are in the DFW area, come join us.  Register here.