What is Charisma?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Charisma is a personality trait that is actually quite difficult to define, because no one is exactly sure what it really entails. Someone who is described as “charismatic” is generally viewed as having a very charming, persuasive personality, and often it's viewed as an almost supernatural trait, with such individuals being remarkably skilled communicators who can often be quite convincing. One notable individual who was often described as charismatic was former US President John F. Kennedy.

President John F. Kennedy was said to be very charismatic.
President John F. Kennedy was said to be very charismatic.

The word “charisma” was originally used by members of the Christian faith. It comes from a Greek word meaning “divine favor,” and it was used to describe individuals like Christ who were capable of creating divine miracles. In its earlier incarnation, the term had much less to do with leadership and communication skills, and much more to do with unusual or extraordinary powers that suggested that the individual was favored by God or the saints.

Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., who was known for his charisma.
Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., who was known for his charisma.

The idea of charisma as a personality trait was introduced in the early 20th century by Max Weber, a noted German sociologist who studied the sociology of government and leadership. He pointed to several examples of such leaders of various nations, and the term began to acquire a life of its own. Today, leaders and government officials are often described as charismatic, as are prominent religious officials, and on occasion, an ordinary individual may be considered to have this trait as well.

Someone with charisma has a personality that is almost magnetic, paired with superb communication skills. When people associate with someone who possesses this trait, they often have a feeling of well being, contentment, and security that makes them happy to follow the individual. Charisma allows someone to connect with many people on a personal level, paying attention to small details to make them feel more comfortable and to establish a personal connection that could be used later.

For politicians, it's a very useful trait, because it allows them to connect with voters and other officials. Many people remember meetings with charismatic politicians for months or years, taking that memory into the voting booth with them. These politicians also find it easier to get things done, thanks to an extensive network of relationships with people who are willing to help them out.

Many religious figures are also very charismatic, using their persuasive personalities to spread the message of religion and faith. The Reverend Billy Graham, for example, is often described this way, as was Martin Luther King, Jr.

People with charisma are very charming, persuasive, and magnetic.
People with charisma are very charming, persuasive, and magnetic.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Charismatic people are affable, not dominating and very personable. They get their point across in a way that utilizes the flow or rapport of the group. They laugh at everyone's jokes and stories and makes the effort to enhance each other's stories. they have full control of themselves yet can effortlessly be relaxed. Also someone who isn't bland and uses controversy like Kanye or Justin Bieber.

Johnny Carson and Will Smith showcase natural charisma at its best.


The thing about people with charisma is that they seem to always have too many friends. They can't really keep a best friend, because everyone wants to be around them, so they have to spread themselves rather thin.

I have been friends with a few charismatic people before, but I never could develop a really deep, meaningful friendship with them. During the time I spent with them, their phones were always ringing or people were always dropping by. I found it hard to even carry on an entire conversation with them without interruption!


This article gives a very good definition of charisma. I couldn't have explained it any better myself, and I have studied the phenomenon of charisma all my life!


I think that many famous singers and musicians have that special something that fits the charisma definition. Whether they are good looking or not doesn't matter. They just have a charm and a way about them that they use to draw fans to themselves.

I do believe that humor is usually a factor in this. If someone is both funny and talented, it is easy to love them.

Also, if they happen to be good looking, then there is no hope for anyone trying to resist them. Charisma combined with physical attractiveness is a powerful force.


@manykitties2 – I think that Jeff Goldblum possesses charisma. He is funny in a subtle way, and he seems rather intelligent. I always like hearing him in interviews, because I know that I can count on him to say something witty without being insulting.


I really believe that charisma is a natural gift for some, but can be learned by many. It is useful for being noticed and having people respect your opinions.

There are a lot of self-help books out there that can help you develop the kind of presence that people identify with charisma. There are even video tutorials if you browse around, showing you little keys on what makes people charismatic.

Does anyone have any tips to share on how you can improve your own charisma, ones that have worked for you?

I feel that having some charisma really helps you at work as well as in your social life.


Who do you think some of the most charismatic celebrities are?

I really feel that while being beautiful is a big part of being a star, that isn't everything. Some stars are blessed with a little extra something, that presence that comes across when they are on screen that makes you take notice and focus on them. I think this is especially true for character actors who aren't traditionally good looking.

For myself, I think that actors like Morgan Freeman and Kathy Bates are a great example of those actors that aren't blessed with traditional star looks but who have managed successful careers with a little charisma to help.

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