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Limber up your Limbic Brain for authentic Charisma

– By Nikki Owen

Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill, Eva Peron, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King. When they spoke, millions listened in awe. When they walked, millions followed devoutly. Six leaders, one powerful attribute – charisma.

So what is this the mythic power of charisma? I define it as something that captivates the hearts and minds of others. To put it another way, when you are being you and you love what you do, you shine.

Studies have found that charismatic leaders outperform their non-charismatic peers by up to 60 percent. But many people believe that charisma isn’t something that can be taught, that if you try to emulate charismatic behaviours that are out of alignment with the essence of who you truly are, you will come across as fake and lacking authenticity.

july-001But did you know that you actually have three brains? Understand the effect these have on your behaviour and how they work can and you can start to develop charisma without appearing shallow and phoney.

Your most ancient brain is your reptilian brain that controls most of your instinctive behaviour. That’s why stressful situations or perceived threats trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenaline and cortisol are released into your system and shift you from ‘growth’ to ‘survival’. When your reptilian brain is active, you block your sensory awareness and become a self-contained silo.

You also have a cortical brain that is responsible for thinking, perceiving, producing and understanding language. Your cortical brain determines your intelligence, personality, motor function, planning and organisation. Finally, you have your limbic brain that controls your self-awareness and your emotional responses.

In a stressful business environment, leaders can inadvertently stimulate their reptilian brain, so negatively impacting their cortical and limbic brains. The leader’s performance and ability to think and perform becomes choked. The common theme that links charismatic leaders is that despite the economic climate or the pressures of business, they are able to install within others a sense of safety and support.

Leaders who rely on their cortical brain may struggle with engagement. How can you expect to build motivation and engagement from your workforce – which are emotional reactions – if you are unable to connect to and access your own inner emotional landscape?

Charismatic leaders utilise more of their limbic brain in their everyday communication. Consequently they possess high levels of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Because of their emotional connectivity they find it easier to express their emotions and avoid a build-up of stored negative emotions so they are more resilient and have a healthier immune system.

When employees know that their leaders are prepared to put their own interests aside to protect them, they unwittingly release serotonin (feel good hormone) and oxytocin (chemical that builds trust and empathy). Individuals who have been operating as silos allow their protective walls to come down and become more collaborative and caring. They feel inspired to follow their leader, they dream of a better future, invest time and effort in learning more, do more for their organisation and along the way become leaders themselves.

Here are five simple and practical ways you can limber up your limbic brain to increase your charisma:

  1. Practice mindfulness and meditate regularly. This will slow down your brainwaves to an Alpha frequency that heightens your self-awareness and strengthens your connection to your emotions. In this state you limbic brain is firing on all cylinders!
  2. Make an honest appraisal of how stressed you are. High stress levels will trigger your cells into a survival operating mechanism and block the flow of hormones associated with feeling good, empathy and trust. Breathing techniques, exercise and acupuncture can be useful for lowering stress levels.
  3. Breathe correctly. When you breathe in your abdomen should expand. Take three deep breaths and notice your awareness expands as you begin to notice sensations in your body. Leaders who are stuck in their conditioned mind tend to take shallow breaths.
  4. Perform a cross-crawl exercise daily. This is simply a cross-lateral ‘walking in place’ exercise that involves touching the right elbow to the left knee and then the left elbow to the right knee. These movements should be performed very slowly because it activates the full mind/body function and stimulates the immune system.
  5. Pay attention to your self-talk. Thoughts become things. What you say to yourself affects how you feel and the extent of your emotional response will determine how much energy you exude. People are naturally drawn to people with high, balanced energy levels.


Nikki OwenNikki Owen is an award winning and international speaker on charisma. She teaches International Business Leaders at Henley Business School, runs charisma master classes at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and is an official political commentator for an International television network.


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