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Book Summary: Charismatic Leadership – The Skills You Can Learn to Motivate High Performance in Others

Charismatic Leadership (2020) is a practical guide to becoming a more effective leader through the power of charisma. We’ve all had a favorite boss or mentor – someone who inspires and motivates with their words, energy, and conviction. Charismatic Leadership teaches you how to be that person.


Management, Leadership, Business, Motivation

Introduction: Inspire your team by becoming the leader every employee wants.

What does charisma mean to you?

Is it being charming? Magnetic? Having a strong presence?

Well, it can be all of those things, but maybe not in the way you think. You see, when you try and define charisma, it’s hard not just to think of someone who is confident and quick-witted – an inspiring person who can just light up a room.

[Book Summary] Charismatic Leadership: The Skills You Can Learn to Motivate High Performance in Others

But, charismatic leadership is a little more complex than that. Being a charismatic leader is less about having others be inspired by you as an individual and more about enabling others to be inspired by themselves.

Knowing that, how charismatic do you think you are?

Whatever your answer, the only thing that actually matters is how your employees would answer on your behalf. And, the hard truth is, that employees consistently rate their bosses far lower on all facets of charisma than the bosses rate themselves.

So how do you build charisma as a leader?

Contrary to popular belief, charisma isn’t something you’re just born with. It can be taught, practiced, and honed. And that’s just what we’ll work on doing in this summary to Kevin Murray’s Charismatic Leadership. Murray argues that being a charismatic leader comes down to five distinct traits: authenticity, personal power, warmth, drive, and persuasiveness. And don’t worry, you don’t have to ooze these qualities in order to be charismatic. In fact, too much of any of the five traits may even have a net negative effect on your business! Instead, you just need to aim for having a little bit of each.

In this summary, we’ll break each of these traits down with examples, tips to get started, and strategies for delivering results. Because once you’re a charismatic leader, you’ll begin to build trust, motivation, and positivity among your employees – and at the end of the day, that’s just good for business.

In this summary, you’ll learn

  • about the five traits of becoming a charismatic leader;
  • why you should stick to a “listening contract”; and
  • how to stop having nightmares about public speaking.


The first trait we’ll be covering is authenticity.

Authenticity is the building block for everything in an organization. Without authenticity, you can’t have trust. And once you have the trust of your employees, the sky’s the limit. You can innovate faster, receive much less pushback on crucial decisions, and customers, suppliers, and partners feel more comfortable working with you. That’s because they trust that you have their best interests at heart. But lose that trust and everything suddenly gets harder.

So how do you make sure to bring your most authentic self to the workplace to start earning people’s trust?

This starts, with first knowing yourself well – your strengths, your weaknesses, how you’re seen by others, everything. The main problem in most businesses is that a majority of managers and bosses think they’re already honest and genuine. No one believes themselves to be untrustworthy. It’s a trait we always assign to others.

But when employees were asked whether they thought their bosses were aware of their own weaknesses, only about a quarter of them agreed. What bosses often don’t realize is that employees are watching their every move. When you’re a leader of a team, any inconsistent behaviors, hypocritical actions, and just general lack of self-awareness come across to your colleagues as untrustworthy, and therefore, inauthentic. That’s why it’s vital to gain an understanding of how you, as an individual, impact those around you.

Here are three methods to work on your authenticity:

First, make sure to stay honest with yourself and your colleagues. A great way to do this is to remember to stay humble and admit your mistakes when you see them. Taking responsibility and owning up to your flaws allows others to trust that you’re self-aware and understanding. Even in a total disaster, your employees’ respect for you will skyrocket if you admit to your mistakes. On the other hand, if you’re dismissive or arrogant when you’re wrong, that only builds up distrust in your future decisions.

Second, know what your personal mission is. When you have a clear idea of your personal goals and mission, your coworkers know exactly where you stand on issues. And don’t be shy about this – to embody your most authentic self, you need to be visibly committed to the things you believe in. Not only does this give them a clear idea of your values, but it also empowers those around you to make their own decisions and judgment calls confidently when you’re not around. If they know what you stand for, they can be more autonomous.

Third, always aim to be present and transparent. Being completely straightforward about your decisions, concerns, and goals makes it easier for those around you to feel you’re being transparent. If your words and your actions aren’t aligned, your employees won’t be sure what to believe. You need to be easy to read and act on what you say. And this doesn’t go away when things get rough, either. Far too many managers hide behind closed doors after implementing difficult decisions. Instead, own the decisions you’ve made, and stay visible. Show up for the difficult discussions, and keep your level of engagement high.

So remember – stay honest, have a personal mission, and strive to be present and transparent.

Personal Power

In business, the word power tends to conjure up images of ruthless CEOs who don’t care whose toes they step on so long as they get to the top. But that sort of power is very different from possessing the strength of character that makes people actually want to follow you.

And this brings us to our second component of charisma: personal power.

We can look at personal power from two angles: physical and mental. The physical aspect of personal power is pretty straightforward – you need to look the part. After all, your team takes its cues from your body language and appearance. If you walk through the office with a scowl on your face, head bowed, and a disheveled outfit, your team will translate this as a reflection of the overall state of the business. So smile frequently, maintain positivity, and be sure at least to be aware of your personal grooming. This doesn’t mean you need to look like a slick Wall Street trader, though. Even better is a leader with quiet confidence, a put-together look, and a passionate optimism – not a show-off who comes across as cocky or arrogant.

Now that you’ve got the look and body language covered, here are three methods to work on your personal power mentally:

First, always try to maintain a leadership mindset. This is about solving problems proactively and thinking, I’ll find a way rather than I can’t do anything about this. Leaders move toward problems or difficult situations, eager to fix them. Even when others have given up.

Second, learn how to reframe a situation. Reframing is a powerful way to look for positives in a difficult situation. Say you’re about to have an uncomfortable but necessary meeting with an unhappy client. It would be all too easy to dread this situation, seeing it as a potential disaster. But instead, why not try to reframe it as an opportunity to better understand the client’s needs and improve performance in the future?

Third, maintain energy and optimism. Optimism is a huge component of personal power. Our brains often work against us in this regard. We’re naturally wired to look for and focus on threats. But when it comes to a formidable task, sometimes optimism alone can help get your team over the finish line. In this way, bosses who are energetic and positive invigorate their teams with the same spirit.

Now, this one isn’t just about you either. You may already radiate high energy, but it’s equally important that your employees do too. So here’s a tip to gauge your team’s energy levels: try conducting an energy audit. Ask everyone in your office how energetic they feel on a scale of one to ten. Follow up with questions about why they feel that way or what might help them feel more energized. Once that’s done, you can get to work looking for ways to recharge your team’s batteries and keep their motivation high.


Let’s start this chapter off with a little scene setter. Lois is naturally introverted, so casual conversation doesn’t come easily to her. But as a managing director of a 60-person agency, she doesn’t let that stop her. Every morning at 8:15 a.m., she comes into the office to chat with her staff for 45 minutes. Making the rounds, asking how people are doing, how their families are, and laughing at their jokes. She makes everyone in the office feel valued, appreciated, and seen. Friendly and anything but aloof, she’s learned to turn on the charm and project warmth, the third component of charisma.

So, next time you’re in the office, look around the room. Choose someone at random and consider how that person makes you feel. Then ask yourself why.

You’ll soon realize that each person has their own distinct emotional signature. This is the impression you’re left with after engaging with them. It could be positive, leaving you happy and invigorated. Or it could be negative, sapping your energy and making you feel frustrated. Once you’ve started noticing other people’s emotional signatures, ask yourself: what’s my emotional signature like?

If it’s disrespectful, aloof, or critical – your employees are at risk of having low morale and burnout. But even if your emotional signature is generally positive, there’s no downside to making it even better! So follow Lois’s example and start engaging with your staff. Get interested in them and their lives and find out what’s important to them. Ask them personal questions and let them ask you questions in return.

To get you started with this, here are three methods to work on your emotional signature and to make sure you’re projecting as much warmth as possible.

First, when speaking to someone, stick to a listening contract. This means making sure that you listen to and understand the person you’re talking to before you respond. And when you do respond, make an effort to make the other person feel heard. So, for example, if they’re frustrated about something that happened around the office, verbally acknowledge it with a comment like, “I can see you’re upset about what happened.” Then commit to action to prove you take their concerns seriously. This way they know they have your attention and you’re not just waiting to interrupt with your own opinion.

Second, try asking people for help. Everyone likes to be reminded that managers are human too. Try asking your employees what format they think would work best for your team meeting, or which talking points you should cover at the next conference. And make sure to do this with a range of employees at all levels. Having a diverse set of answers and opinions will help make people at every level feel seen and appreciated.

Third, and this one’s an easy one to remember, always try to address people by their names – this will make them feel recognized and remembered. Simple as that!

Of course, no trick will work if you don’t actually take your staff and others seriously. You need to carefully hone your listening skills and make people feel that you’re addressing their concerns. By cultivating a warm emotional signature, you’ll inspire loyalty, commitment, and positivity in your staff.


Let’s face it, it can often be a struggle to wake up and head into the office early in the morning. If this is true for you, it’s almost certainly true for your staff as well. Employees and managers alike need a reason to get out of bed and go to work every day – something more than just a salary. To get revved up, people need a cause they can believe in and fight for relentlessly. In other words, they need motivation, which brings us to the fourth component of charismatic leadership: drive.

Many top managers are very logical, staying focused on the bottom line at all times. When it comes to motivation, however, there’s a disconnect with that strategy: financial metrics, as useful as they are, aren’t very engaging for employees.

That’s why, as a team and as a company, you should always have a clearly defined purpose that motivates everything you do. Articulate this with a short and sweet statement, similar to a company’s mission statement – TED’s “To spread ideas,” for example, or Tesla’s “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Something clear, simple, and right to the point. And leaders radiate charisma when they’re driven by a cause.

Drive isn’t just about what you’re doing, though – it’s also about how you do it. That means continuously improving the way your team operates.

So, here are three methods to work on your drive.

First, make sure your team knows what the customers are looking for. Once you have a common goal and a clear customer base, this can drive employees toward a clear shared common goal and boosts the feeling of autonomy.

Second, allow everyone’s voice or opinion to be heard. That way, any large initiatives or new processes won’t just seem like they’re coming down mysteriously from the top. Everyone knows where these ideas and goals originated and feels a part of them.

Third, strive for a culture of continuous improvement. Although it’s always crucial to recognize and celebrate success, it’s also key to developing a culture of improvement. That way, employees can maintain their sense of drive from project to project and maintain the same level of enthusiasm.

For this one, let’s try and implement all three of these into a real-life scenario. Let’s take Sally, for example. When she was appointed as head of the Talent and People Division at a major national consulting firm, her department was in trouble. Her team was in a steady decline and found itself suddenly needing to increase the number of new customers it acquired vastly. The endeavor seemed monumental at first, but every day, Sally visited her team members’ desks and asked what they were doing to generate new meetings with clients. Not only that, she spoke with existing customers as well as competitors to gain as much insight and advice as possible. Every time she heard a good new idea, she broadcast it to the rest of the team. On top of that, good ideas were immediately integrated into the team’s regular processes. The team was always invested and laser-focused on improvement. It worked as a single unit.

Astonishingly, within 18 months, Sally’s team had become the best-performing part of the business. The icing on the cake? Sally’s staff were more motivated than those in any other division, and now even had a game plan to continue improving in the future!


Public speaking is easily one of the world’s most common phobias. Some people actually fear it more than they fear death!

Unfortunately, public speaking is an essential and unavoidable part of most people’s careers. And, it is one of the most crucial elements of our fifth and final component of charismatic leadership: persuasion. Confident public speaking makes any argument more persuasive and also helps in motivating those around you.

Luckily, to become a better public speaker, there are plenty of tips and tricks you can master – things like controlling your breathing, outlining your key points on a notecard, and crafting a powerful opener. But to be truly persuasive takes a little more.

For our last three points, we’re going to dive head-first into how to be persuasive.

First, you always need to strive to have an emotional impact on your audience. And one of the best ways to do that is through the power of stories. Your audience needs to feel connected to you and your goals. A story that tugs at people’s heartstrings creates that connection.

So how can you tell the most impactful story possible? Start by connecting it to your values. Let’s say one of your values is boldness. To illustrate that, tell a story about an employee who took bold steps to win over a client, or one about bold action leading to a turning point in your career. Those are the stories that will stick with your audience. And the more personal they are, the more persuasive they’ll be.

For our second point, we need to take persuasion beyond public speaking. We need to remember that persuasion is also essential in our everyday conversations – both good and bad. When surveyed, more than half of British managers would do anything to avoid a negative conversation with an employee. Likewise, 70 percent of managers in the US said they were often uncomfortable communicating with their employees.

So, when anticipating a conversation, difficult or otherwise, it helps to have a general gameplan of the outcome you want to achieve. Are you trying to inform your team about changes, developments, or processes? Is the conversation more about solving a problem, or are you trying to improve an existing approach? With that in mind, you can guide the conversation exactly where you want it to go without being too pushy. Ask questions to guide the other person toward a solution, and you’ll often find that they get there on their own. Even better, feeling like they’ve had a say in things will make them far more committed to the plan of action.

Finally, for our third method of persuasion, you need to be clear about the benefits that your agenda will have for others. By clearly stating how each individual is involved, and therefore how they too will benefit from your vision, you’ll persuade employees to work toward the company’s goals as a united front. And this doesn’t have to be all on you either, this should be a two-way conversation. Employees should feel encouraged to address what their needs or apprehensions are. That way, they can become invested and reassured that any new goals or initiatives are there to benefit them as well.

When executed properly, persuasion inspires your employees to turn strategy into action.

With your newly revved-up power of persuasion, combined with the other building blocks of charisma, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a truly inspiring and charismatic leader. Not only will you be able to motivate and encourage your employees to do great things, but you’ll also be bringing tangible benefits to your business in the form of increased profits, innovation, and productivity.

Final Summary

The key message in this summary is:

Many people think that charisma is something you’re born with or something that only very special individuals possess. But that’s patently false – it’s always possible to improve your charisma. By cultivating authenticity, personal power, warmth, drive, and persuasion, you’ll have a host of new ways to inspire and motivate your employees.

To get started, here’s a quick piece of actionable advice:

Give your employees stretching goals.

In his research, the author found that for employees, the need to feel valued and important is stronger than pay, the work environment, and even the vision of the organization. One thing that can really lead to a sense of accomplishment for your employees is stretching goals – targets that are difficult to hit but still within reach. When employees do successfully achieve their stretching goals, celebrate their hard work. This will flood their brains with feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which will boost their trust in you and increase their motivation to work even harder. It’s a win-win for everyone and that’s what charismatic leadership is all about.

About the author

Kevin Murray is a business author and speaker with more than 45 years of leadership experience, based in the UK. He ran the UK’s biggest PR and communications group for 20 years, from where he also personally advised dozens of CEO’s from major global and national companies. Previously, he had been director of communications for British Airways, The Atomic Energy Authority and Bayer, the chemicals company. Kevin Murray is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and a Companion of the Chartered Management Institute.

His four business books are all published by Kogan Page: The Language of Leaders; Communicate to Inspire; People with Purpose; Charismatic Leadership.

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