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Why Charismatic Leaders are Fast Thinkers

Charismatic Leaders

Many small business owners tend to be charismatic people – they’re charming, they’re magnetic, they’re inspiring and they tend to know how to “make friends and influence people,” as the classic self-help book said. Small business owners are often great, charismatics leaders because of their interpersonal skills – they know how to make people feel comfortable and win people’s confidence and trust. But what is the real “root” of charisma? Is charisma something that can be learned, or is it just something that is inherent – you’re either born with it or you’re not?

Some recent research from the University of Queensland suggests that charisma is not an isolated occurrence – it’s connected to people’s overall brainpower and style of thinking. According to a study of intelligence tests and personality tests, people who answered test questions quicker tended to be perceived as being more charismatic – regardless of all other factors. This means that charismatic people – aside from knowing how to tell jokes or create emotional connections – often know how to think fast.

Here are a few reasons why quick-thinking people tend to be more charismatic:

Charisma is based (in part) on being one step ahead: Think about the charismatic people you know – they tend to be mentally agile and always “one step ahead” of the conversation – they know how to take the conversation in exciting new directions. Professor William von Hippel, one of the authors of the study, was quoted as saying, “charismatic people tend to be quick on their feet. They say things that you find compelling but that you don’t expect. They come back with an entertaining answer or a surprising association, and you never quite know what will happen next.”

There is a fine line between “average” and “fast” thinking: In the study, people were invited to give answers to common knowledge questions, such as “What’s the name of a precious gem?” The test was designed not to test people’s overall knowledge – after all, there are lots of different precious gems, from diamonds to rubies to emeralds – but to test the speed of people’s responses. The “fast thinker” survey respondents who were rated as most “charismatic” tended to answer their test questions in only 400 milliseconds, compared to 900 milliseconds for the “slow” thinkers. This seems like a tiny amount of time, but it shows a real difference in people’s overall processing speed. Charismatic people tend to not necessarily be the people who know all the names of all the precious gems – instead, they’re the people who are decisive and focused enough to quickly give a response.

Fast thinking + Social situations = Charisma: Another factor in charisma, according to the study, is that when people are in social situations, whether it’s working the room at a party or just having casual conversations with friends, our minds are working in complex ways and there is a subtle social pressure on us to respond and engage – and these social situations tend to reward fast thinking. Charismatic people know how to keep conversations going – they know what to say at just the right time, with no awkward pauses. Social situations are some of the most complex situations for human beings, and charismatic, fast-thinking people know how to navigate them.

To learn more about the link between charismatic leaders and fast thinking, check out this article in the Harvard Business Review: Fast Thinkers Are More Charismatic.