Monday, February 27, 2012

The laws of charisma: How to captivate, inspire, and influence for maximum success

By Kurt W. Mortensen

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

When you see the 30 ingredients of charisma listed and discussed by Mortensen, your first question may be the same as mine: Who decided these were the main ingredients of charisma?  First, the author says, “I have spent my life studying persuasion, motivation, and influence.  People often ask me what is the most important tool or skill in the entire influence toolbox? . . . If there were one skill to master out of all the tools of persuasion and influence, it is charisma” (p. 2).

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question: From where did these 30 ingredients come?  “While I was doing research for this book, I conducted extensive interviews.  I asked people how they would describe a person whom other people love to be around and want to be influenced by . . . ? The word ‘charisma’ came up the most . . . “ (p. 6).

Then, the answer magically appears: “Research on charisma shows that you must learn and master certain skills, traits, and attributes.  I have determined that there are 30 in all, and each has a chapter of its own” (pp. 7-8).  The answer is simple: We must trust the author’s ability to select the right, proper, or appropriate ingredients.  There is no single other source that supports the choice of these 30, and the research Mortensen cites, like Bernard M. Bass, in Bass & Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership, 3rd ed. (New York: Free Press, 1990), p. 190.} — which is often cited — simply makes comments like “Charismatic people project a powerful, confident, dynamic presence” which Mortensen uses as his reason for selecting a title, like that of Chapter 2: “Confidence: Conviction Is Contagious.”  In other words, there is no research that supports the overall selection of ingredients.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that I disagree with Mortensen’s selection of the ingredients that make up charisma.  One could say that his selection is as good as any other.  And when you look at the ingredients (passion, confidence, congruence, optimism, positive power, energy and balance, humor and happiness, self-discipline, competence, intuition, purpose, integrity, courage, creativity, focus, presentation skills, people skills, influence, storytelling, eye contact, listening, rapport, inspiration, esteem, credibility, motivation, goodwill, vision, empathy, and respect), you wonder if there couldn’t be others that are not mentioned or if there are some mentioned that don’t matter as much as others.  It would have been good to have them discussed in the order of importance determined by the research on charisma — if such research exists.  Are some of them universal?  If I wanted to develop charisma, should I be the one to determine where to place my emphasis, or should I place my emphasis on those ingredients determined to be the most important in charisma — as it is perceived by others — according to the research.  This is not an indictment of Mortensen’s work; however, these are some of the questions that a curious reader might ask.

The organization of each chapter (an opening story, core information, the major mistake readers make with respect to the ingredient (“blind spot”), application, example, and the key to developing the ingredient along with a rating scale for determining your own ability or skill on the factor discussed in the chapter) is tight, valuable, predictable, helpful, and practical.

The book is well-written and direct.  I enjoyed how the author talks to readers in a conversational and helpful manner.  There are 19 pages of “Research,” and much of it is quite good.  I do not question the statement I am going to quote here, “The top predictor of professional success and upward mobility is how much you enjoy and how good you are at public speaking [I agree!]; however, the citation for this speech is a motivational writer and speaker: Tony Alessandra, Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism That Leads to Success (New York: Business Plus, 2000).  It would be a little like quoting me saying the same thing — with no research to back up the statement.

There is a great deal of (recent) research to back up a statement like “The top predictor of professional success and upward mobility is how much you enjoy and how good you are at public speaking” [I cite it in my textbook Communicating Effectively, 10th ed.  (McGraw-Hill, 2012], and it would be great to see studies cited to support such a comment.  

Bernard M. Bass’s book, Bass & Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership, is over 20 years old; the issues of American Salesman cited to support the importance of presentations were 20 years old.  Once again, this is not an indictment of Mortensen’s “research” for this book; however, there are so many more recent, varied, reputable, and primary sources that could be used that would make his conclusions (regarding public speaking or presentations) stronger.  (In some cases Mortensen cited his earlier books, Maximum Influence: The 12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion (New York: AMACOM, 2004) and Persuasion IQ: The 10 Skills You Need to Get Exactly What You Want (New York: AMACOM, 2008) to support his points.)

I realize that most people don’t care about the research used in a book.  If you are a person just looking for a book that will help you build charisma — whether you are just starting out or whether you are trying to improve your charismatic presence — this book is likely to provide you with a place to start — especially if you are looking for basic, elementary, essential tools.

The laws of charisma: How to captivate, inspire, and influence for maximum success can be purchased at

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