Peddling the promise of charisma

If You Could Bottle That Stuff

In a 1981 interview with The New York Times, then 77-year-old Cary Grant admitted, "I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, and I finally became that person. Or he became me." The vain hope that any average Joe has what it takes to become the next Cary Grant sells thousands of books, DVDs, and seminar tickets every year. Like diet doyennes who promise to reveal easy weight loss secrets, charisma coaches suggest that they'll let you in on the secret formula. Follow a few simple rules, et voilà! You're a cool cat, the jiu jiu oozing from your very pores.  


The business and career literature is replete with such promises. They rest on the premise that charisma is not a serendipitous, rarefied phenomenon, but an asset that can be acquired by any company man through earnest practice and a little attitude adjustment. It's the Cary Grant method—close your eyes, tap your heels three times, and you, too, will find the world at your feet. 

What these authors and coaches teach is not charisma, but a powerful combination of confidence and optimism. One suspects that Archibald Leach would not have been able to pretend his way into becoming Cary Grant had he not possessed a leading-man presence to begin with. And one also suspects that, for all his pretense, your average corporate lackey is no Cary Grant.


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Magic Mustache

Is wearing a mustache the secret to charisma? We think not, but since Freddie Mercury sported one, we must leave open the possibility. Here are our other picks.

10 Most Charismatic Mustachioed Men

  1. Freddie Mercury
  2. Prince
  3. Tom Selleck
  4. Sammy Davis, Jr.
  5. Burt Reynolds
  6. Clark Gable
  7. Walter Cronkite
  8. Dr. Phil*
  9. Yosemite Sam (Sorry, Cap'n)
  10. Hamilton The Hipster Cat

*Disclaimer: Not an endorsement of blowhard bullshit artists 


Burt Reynolds's once-famous charisma—some might say arrogance—was on full display when he posed nude-ish for Cosmo in 1972. The come-down from bearskin rug to animated cereal bowl must have been a real ball buster. 


Secret Formula

How-to books on charisma tend to take a "7 Habits" approach, and their titles almost invariably contain the word "secrets," "steps," or "keys." They focus on pumping up your personal charisma for specific purposes, such as turning yourself into executive material, helping you break into acting, hooking up with your soulmate (women) or getting laid (men). I'm all for self-improvement, but can charisma really be learned? What do you think?