Describe someone you know as having charisma, and most people get an image of a powerful leader striding across a stage, emoting and expounding, with the audience periodically breaking into raucous cheers.
However, that’s just one style of charisma. Introverts too can possess strong personal magnetism, inspiring passionate devotion. Their allure has different dynamics, and I’ve broken down the possibilities into four types.
Type #1: The Man or Woman of Mystery.
Think of the proverbial guru on the mountaintop who sleeps in a cave and needs no human companionship, yet is sought out by troubled people with cosmic questions. Seekers revere the guru’s oracular pronouncements and may turn them over and over again in their minds for years.
A Zen master has this kind of charisma, as does someone who speaks rarely but always with compressed meaning. For instance, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, nicknamed “Silent Cal” because he never engaged in small talk. When he died, extroverted wit Dorothy Parker quipped, “How could they tell?”
Think also about the long-lived fascination with Greta Garbo, who came to public attention as a silent film star and ended her life as an enigmatic recluse. Ditto for the laconic martial artist Bruce Lee, who once said something that could serve as the introvert creed: “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
For an in-depth portrait of this type of charismatic introvert, I recommend the book Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, by Norman Malcolm. Wittgenstein was the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century and quite a character. (Malcolm was my graduate-school advisor at Cornell, and he was also a man of few words and many minutes of silence.)
Type #2: The Preacher.
This is someone brimming with a conviction for a cause, who lives his or her truth and inspires others with highly emotional, eloquent persuasion. Through words and deeds, he or she calls listeners to their conscience.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi might come to mind. And perhaps you know someone whose passion for animals or the earth or social justice energizes others around them. Someone like Greta Thunberg, who has helped awaken the conscience of the world to take climate change seriously. She says she was inspired by Rosa Parks, a key figure in the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans. “I learned she was an introvert,” Greta Thunberg told Rolling Stone magazine. “I am also. And I thought it’s not just extroverts. We introverts can also make our voices heard.”
Some of these people might look like extroverts since they are often out and about crusading in public. However, they may actually feel themselves to be shy and recharge themselves in solitude.
Type #3: The Deep One.
Here, someone has a talent for interpersonal intensity and intimacy, so that others feel fully seen, heard, and touched. Again, this might appear to be an extrovert tendency, but we are talking about people who prefer to exercise this flair one on one. In contrast to the man or woman of mystery, who has more of an intellectual bent, this charismatic introvert lives in a world of feelings.
When someone with a genius for rapport bends his or her talent for good, we see a healer, someone who is gifted at eye contact, listening, and/or touch, a consummate lover, and a brilliant friend. When someone with those abilities travels to the dark side, we get a Svengali – someone who uses personal magnetism to manipulate another person in a close personal relationship.
Those with this profile don’t usually seek fame or acclaim, but sometimes it finds them, as with Princess Diana and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and they must learn to make their peace with it.
Type #4: The Kook.
When Ross Perot ran for President, he often lectured with charts and a pointer instead of giving conventional political speeches. For many people, he had a geeky charm that was compelling because he believed so firmly in what he was saying and because he was so utterly himself.
Although Perot was usually pegged as an extrovert, I’ve known many introverts with this kind of magnetism, who care little about what others think of them and constantly surprise you with their off-kilter attitudes and unexpected pronouncements. Comedians Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin (at least in their performing personas) exemplify this type of charisma.
Do you recognize yourself in one of these four profiles? If so, I’m not sure you need much marketing advice. When charismatic introverts discover their calling and know themselves thoroughly, they easily and naturally attract admirers. If they struggle, it tends to be around the issue of whether or not they should unbottle their gifts and impulses, rather than keeping them suppressed or contained.
Your major lesson: If you’re charismatic, it pays to be yourself. Work on refining your authenticity and letting your greatness shine. Then watch the recipients of your magnetism spread the word on your behalf.
And if you’re not charismatic, what then? You can turn to personal branding, which is the topic of the next lesson.