In this episode of Science of Business Podcast, I will be speaking with prof. John Antonakis, an accomplished scholar and Editor-in-Chief of one of my favourite journals – Leadership Quarterly.
During our conversation, we will explore the results of his groundbreaking work in the field of charisma, trying to find some practical suggestions for leaders in how (and why) to be more charismatic. Some leading questions I'd like to get answers to:
✔ What are the Charismatic Leadership Tactics?
✔ Can we quantify the value of practising charisma?
✔ How to become more charismatic?
If you are curious about charisma and would like to know more about the impact it has on your business, you can't miss out on this episode!
Radek: Welcome to Science of Business podcast by Valueships. My name is Radek. And together with experts from various industries, we discuss new research pieces and their application in business life. If you're a manager or you want to be up to date with science that can be applied in your work, this podcast is made for you.
Good afternoon, and welcome to another episode of Science of Business podcast. Today, my guest is Professor John Antonakis from University of Lausanne and editor-in-chief of one of my favorite journals, The Leadership Quarterly. Good afternoon.
John Antonakis: Hi.
Radek: We have the topic of charisma for today and I have plenty of questions to ask you, so I would just jump into them, and when thinking of charisma, we can identify, we can tell this person is charismatic, in my opinion, this leader is charismatic, this speech was charismatic. But then, if we try to figure out why do we think so, it gets a bit tricky. So, I wonder, from your experience in research, how do you define charisma?
John Antonakis: So, thank you very much for inviting me on your show. So, let's begin by saying that it's very difficult to first identify and to define what charisma is. So, I think generally, people may probably have a notion of what charisma is but that notion is going to be seriously confounded by many factors, including how the person looks, how smart the person is, their personality. So, all these things may feed into a person's charismatic behavior. So, you know, if one tries to use perceptions to model charisma, one has to understand all the factors that feed into it, so well, we took another perspective in how to identify what charisma is by actually identifying specific behaviors that leaders do, that makes them seem more charismatic, independent of how they look or other factors. So, we define charisma as symbolic, value-based and emotional leader signaling. So, we talk about symbols, can you speak in symbolic ways? In other words, trigger images and provide analogies and make themes very vivid, so that people can see, can touch, can smell what you're talking about. Second component is are you defending a set of values? You know, what's the Raison d'être? why are we doing it? And then the third, it has to do with emotional engagement of the leader, the confidence they signal, the emotions they signal. So, all three components are very important. The emotional component is very much rooted in what values are being defended and how symbolically the leader communicates. So, typically speaking, if we just have the text to analyze of a leader, we can do a pretty good job of predicting whether people see the leaders charismatic. So, we can measure charisma in actual speeches of leaders and actually interactions. Whether they are face to face, via TV via TED, whatever, it doesn't matter. But more importantly, as Kurt Lewin said, if you want to understand something, you need to try and change it. So, I’ve been doing a lot of experimental work where we take the same person and then we deliver two versions of a speech. One using these techniques, another one, not, but giving the same content. So, we hold the content constant, what the leader is asking the follower to do, constant. But one has got more charismatic techniques than the other. So, I think we have a pretty good idea on, you know, what it is and whether it matters and how to measure it. I’ve been working on this topic, I don't know, at least last 12, 15 years.
Radek: Wow, okay. It's already something I… it twisted my perspective because indeed, I was thinking so, when we think of the famous charismatic speeches, it's also a lot about the appearance, the gestures, the context, you know, the Martin Luther King speech in Washington. So, the entire atmosphere around… I’m not sure if it was Washington, I need to check that later on but the entire context of how it was, how it came up to the speech also build up my perception of what charisma is. But you are trying to focus on the things that we are in control of, in a sense. Is that right?
John Antonakis: Yeah, yeah. And just as a case in point, it was at the gates of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered the speech. And that speech, if I coded using my deep neural networks, it's very charismatic speech. So, the words that he spoke, whether it was in that context or in another context, I mean, it would have still signaled very strongly his charisma. And interestingly, if I take any speech, almost any speech from Martin Luther King and I examine it in my deep neural networks, which we've trained to actually code for these techniques, obviously we used humans first to do it and then we trained the machine, it's extremely charismatic. And, you know, Martin Luther King had a good voice, deep. He spoke rhythmically but he didn't, you know, the emotional delivery was not so strong, you know, the gesturing was not so strong. But of course, it was very symbolic. He was speaking at the gates of Lincoln Memorial and he started off by saying, ‘Four score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today’, which was Lincoln, you know, signed the emancipation declaration, so it was strong symbolism surrounding the talk. There were a lot of people and he delivered an absolutely brilliant speech. And yeah, you know, the charisma of the leader also spreads around. You know, if people react, it may make other people react so, you know, when there's an audience, I think it can probably magnify the charismatic effect that spreads by contagion.
Radek: Wow. Okay. So, it gives me a sense that we can really learn to be charismatic and I think my biggest goal for today will be to get some tips from you on how to do that. But before we go into those practicalities, I’m also very curious about your decision-making scheme. So, how did you come up to a conclusion charisma is something to investigate more and dedicate so much of your life into?
John Antonakis: Well, it wasn't something that I had consciously thought about to do before I started studying it. I sort of stumbled across this. I was studying leadership, in general. That was my… my PhD was on that and I focused on psychometrics and measuring people's perceptions of leaders using questionnaire measures. I don't do that anymore, I think it's not a good way to do research, given the problem that I told you that these perceptions are very endogenous, meaning, they depend on so many un-modeled factors that one cannot possibly control for all of them. So, I was tenured in 2005 I think, and... or six, somewhere there. And a friend of mine sent me an article that was published in the journal, Science, that showed that researchers could predict who could win election races by rating the faces of the men who run up and this has really bothered me because as a professor of leadership, you know, if your ability to lead already depends on how attractive or symmetrical you are how competent you look, you know, what is it that I can teach people. So, I was motivated to try to understand what we can do beyond initial impressions, so a lot of the research that I did was to try to understand perceptions and initial impressions and they really do matter. I managed to replicate the study and I actually replicated using even young children. I talk about it in my TEDx talk, whoever's interested, they can go look on YouTube. It's on TEDx. The title is ‘Let's face it, charisma matters’. And so, you know, I started by studying face effects and first impressions and how they can affect how much influence one gets. There's a lot of literature in economics on what they call the beauty premium, so that is the positive benefits that individuals get that look good, can be reinforcing, can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Many mechanisms that may explain that. But my idea was can we take a person who has a particular look, who's reasonably smart, and train them to be more charismatic and will this person be seen very differently as a function of how much charisma they signal. And that's what I did in a paper we published in 2011, ‘Can charisma be taught?’ wherein we did two experiments. One was a randomized field experiment and the second was a laboratory experiment. And in the second experiment, we showed the same person having their natural level of charisma which we boosted, were they seen in a different way as a function of these, what we call charismatic leadership techniques. So, that's how I stumbled on it because I thought it's unfair, you know, we don't choose how we look and how we look affects how other people see us and I just think it's very unfair because, you know, that's the dice of nature that that affect our looks. Of course, it also affects other things like our intelligence, our personality, to some extent but, you know, holding constant all these factors, by educating people, by training them in rhetoric, can we make them more charismatic? The answer is yes, but I must make a proviso there. Not just anyone can benefit from this, you really have to have some level of smarts and intelligence to be able to do this. It's not an easy thing. It's not like putting a yellow hat on your head. If charisma was so simple as putting a yellow hat on the head, you know, no one would be able to distinguish anyone from charisma. So, charisma is costly. It's not easy to show, but to the extent that someone is willing to invest time and is reasonably smart, they will be able to produce this charismatic signal.
Radek: And just coming back for a second you mentioned this research involving like, even kids can recognize charisma. Is it the one… it wasn't charisma, it was whether someone would win an election… yeah, yeah. Yeah, true, exactly. So, that's the one. I got very intrigued by it. Like, you were sharing pictures of two candidates and then based on the picture, they were predicting like, who would they choose, right? It's that…
John Antonakis: Yeah, yeah. So, we had the winner and the runner-up, which we randomized, you know, left and right and we did it for many elections. So, adults choosing who looks more competent or more intelligent or more leader like. Their choices, we mapped also on what kids would do after they played a game and where we primed the captain metaphor and then we asked them who that used to be a captain of the boat. So, the kids choices were very similar to the adult's choices and both of them, 7 out of 10 times at the individual level, they chose correctly, in other words, who actually won the election? So, it turns out those are for elections, where you don't have a lot of information on candidates. So, parliamentary elections. So, there, of course, people will go with first impression because they don't really know who the people are, what they stand for. So, you know, modeling election races depends on the information richness also. You know, presidential elections work in a completely different way. We have a paper on that in the Academia Management Journal where we show that the state of the economy, who's the incumbent, how long they have been in, and also the charisma difference of the two candidates then predicts very well who will likely win. There, the face doesn't work so well. I did do a little pilot study with kids and, you know, it's about 55-45. So, about, you know, 55 out of 100 times, they will choose correctly. It's just slightly better than chance, so I don't think there's anything in that. Definitely, in the… where there's a lot of information on the candidates, you know, the economy and other things matter a lot more. Yeah.
Radek: Yeah, I think this is… when I’ve seen this paper, I was recently drawn to our previous presidential elections where we had two candidates that were very similar in terms of how they present themselves on pictures and so on but yeah, but one was, to my opinion, a bit more visually appealing as a president. Let's put it in this way. They still lost, so which would mean that there is something more to it than just the looks, than just the charisma. And probably, probably, that's what you cover in this paper. So, another one I need to read on, and I think we are ready to really dive deeper into the specific practices, specific tactics that we can implement when we want to be more charismatic. I think you mentioned a little bit about it. And as far as I know, that's how you call them, right? ‘Charismatic leadership tactics’.
John Antonakis: Yeah, yeah.
Radek: So, could you maybe elaborate more on what exactly can we do to boost our charisma? What should we focus on when designing the way we will speak, the way we will present in front of an audience?
John Antonakis: Well, I teach over a whole semester, my EMBA students, on how to do this, so it's not something I can say in five minutes but I can give a basic gist. So, about learning charisma and teaching it, I guess we'll focus a little bit more on that later. So, what other techniques now you'd like to know a bit more about? So, there are three essential components of charisma. One is delivery and I’ll leave that to last. That, let's say, the icing on the cake. But the cake is really composed of two essential ingredients. Framing and substance. Framing is directing people's attention on the message and substances is what are we doing and why are we doing it. So, in framing, probably, the most important component is generating symbolic meanings via metaphors and storytelling. So, speaking metaphorically is very important because people understand it, it provides an analogy, it's easy to remember. So, you know, when Mr. Martin Luther King that you mentioned before, Radek, when he said, you know, in a sense, we've come to the nation's capital to cash a check. Now, obviously, people didn't go to the nation's capital to cash a check but, you know, he's saying, in a sense, we've come to cash a check when the architects of our republic signed the magnificent words of the constitution, they were promising everyone, you know, the certain inalienable rights, and then he said in so far as the Negro people are concerned, we have received a bad check, a check marked insufficient funds. Now, everyone can understand what it means because he’s using a metaphor, especially in those days where checks were widely used, perhaps young people today don't know what a check is because it doesn't exist anymore. But, you know, if one is able to explain something complicated like the constitution and, you know, some legal aspects in a way that anyone can understand, then you get the point across and it also means you know what you're talking about. You've managed to find something that is very hard to convey. So, you know, he continued, you know, we refuse to believe that our bank of justice is bankrupt, you know, you know he could have said that in a legal speak but, you know, no one would understand, it wouldn't be interesting. So, it sounds poetic, it provides a visual and it also says that this person knows what they're talking about. Like, you know, I don't know, Einstein, when he tried to explain, when he… not tried, he did very well explained that gravity is merely acceleration towards an object. And, you know, if you just say this to a person that, you know, gravity's acceleration, he’s like, ‘what? You don’t know what are you talking about’. And he used a very powerful metaphor, you know, imagine, you're in a lifting space and you're in the middle of the lift and the lift is not moving, so you're stuck in the middle, suspended and, you know, you're very far from any gravitational pull. So, you're just sitting there, not moving, the lift’s not moving. Now, imagine, there are rockets on the bottom of the lift and the lift starts accelerating and you're in the middle, you know, and if the list accelerating, it’s going to push you up and you'll be able to walk and you'll experience gravity or something akin to gravity. You're not experiencing any gravity, you're experiencing acceleration. Something is pushing your legs down, so you can walk, and it feels like you're experiencing gravity. So, you know, to be able to come up with these metaphors, you better know your subject extremely well. And the metaphor, if it doesn't make sense, then the person won't understand. So, you see, this is… it's not easy to be able to produce metaphors that make sense. So, you know, that's what we look for and yeah.
Radek: And I wonder, so, like, probably, they should also be meaningful to the audience. Like, the more they are attached to them, the stronger the message.
John Antonakis: Exactly. I mean, if I produce a metaphor that makes no sense or people can't understand, then I’ve lost them. So, you know, metaphors are very important, stories are very important. Can I find stories and anecdotes that relate to the problem at hand, that bring it to light, that have a moral that people can understand? So, and, you know, if you think about it, go back to the Savannah, 80,000 years or whenever people started speaking. Sorry, perhaps, it wasn't 80,000 years. I don't know, tens of thousands of years. The tribes that probably had an evolutionary fitness advantage were the ones that had leaders who would able to capture knowledge and convey it and transmit it. So, how else would that be said, you know, thousands of years ago when we didn't have books and USB sticks. It was through storytelling, through metaphors, through proverbs, through symbolic meanings. So, I think this is also something we've been evolved to detect and to be very attuned to, so that's why I think when someone is able to speak symbolically, you know, we stand up and listen. It's a unusual quality and, you know, there's probably a distribution of intelligence that allows one to produce these things. So, you know, it's not… it's probably on the high end of the intelligence scale where people have the capacity to produce this kind of rhetoric. So, we have symbolic meanings produced by metaphor and stories, we have other things like… I think I was showing you before we began, I was analyzing the speech of JFK, his inaugural address, you know, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, what you can do for your country’. So, it's speaking in contrast, you know, contrasting your position against another position, making things black and white and directing people's attention, using three-part lists. We're here to do this, this and that, or four-part list. Again, it focuses attention, it makes it easy to remember and it gives an impression of completeness. And then asking, you know, rhetorical questions. So, there are those who are asking when will the Negro people be satisfied. You know, posing a question and then answering the question. So, again, I’m quoting what Martin Luther King said. You know, those… the term ‘Negro’ obviously, is a derogatory term today. I’m just quoting what he said at the time he did. So, posing rhetorical questions can also create an intrigue, a puzzle that you will answer, or it can give the answer immediately like, you know, what is it like if you're a mother, you know, in a basement and holding your kids at two o'clock in the morning and hearing Russian bombs going on around you. No one has to answer that question, you just pose it with the answer being evident. You know, what is it like if your kids go to bed one more night and don't have a hot meal. You know, so, rhetorical questions can be used to provide an answer immediately or to pose an intrigue that will be answered lately, like what is charisma? Can we learn it? If we signal charisma, will we be able to be more effective? Now, I’m not going to answer that right now, I might answer it later but at least, it's created a puzzle in your head. So, that's what framing is about. And then there’s substance. So, the substance has to do with, you know, what are the values you're defending, what's right, what's wrong, what's good, what's bad, what should we do, what we should not do. So, you know, again, with Martin Luther King, he repeated over and over again, it's not right that, you know, African-Americans don't have the same rights as whites do. He repeated, you know, over and over again, you know, that we are languishing on a lonely island of poverty in a sea of material prosperity, chained by the… manacled by the chains of discrimination. You know, a lot of strong themes also metaphorically delivered but showing that it's not right what's going on, it's not good what's going on. This is not what we should do. So, signaling very strongly your values, at the same time, signaling that you understand what people feel like. So, that's what I call cognitive empathy. Can you put into words what people are thinking, what people are hoping for, what people would like or what people believe and embracing and acknowledging those feelings, not denying them and then using those then to move forward and linking them in the vision in some way that will give people hope and make them feel confident and make them feel worthy and make them feel like they can accomplish something. So…
Radek: I’m wondering…
John Antonakis: Yeah?
Radek: So in, you know, in the topics of social injustice and the topics that really move people, it feels very easy to show the values to stand in one or the other camp but I wonder if there is something for like, using the same techniques but for some things that are not that emotional, like data, like, you know, speaking science even, how do we present the values in topics that are not that emotionally driven, in a sense?
John Antonakis: Well, that's an interesting question and I’m glad you asked it because in fact, everything we do does have a value-based component. I teach statistics. A causal analysis at the PhD level and, you know, I make very clear to my students the moral and ethical responsibility they have to do research that's robust, so that they can inform policy correctly. And I show them what happens when we have failure of science. You know, we don't… we can't replicate what we're doing and it's not robust and it has absolutely zero policy implications. So, you know, whether you are defending political values, whether you're producing a paper clip, a bottle top or whether you're teaching science or law or anything, everything has got moral implications. How you do it? How you treat the people? What kind of knowledge you produce? The actions you produce? The whole value chain. How is this process driven? What is its impact on others? On the environment? So, I would be hard-pressed to find any activity done by any human in any field that doesn't have values attached to it. The problem is this; leaders don't often realize what their values are and they don't often talk about them explicitly. So, this is something that I make very explicit, which is what makes charismatic leaders unusual is that they do bring those values to the fore. You know, we usually expect that from politicians but it shouldn't be the case. It's every single thing we do has got values attached to it. So, you know, even if we teach statistics, we can put values to it. And I guess it's a long story why I teach statistics but if we have time, I’ll come back to that. Anyway, and then, so, there I talked about values, I talked about collective sentiments and then there's also what is the strategic goal we are doing. And of course, a leader has to know what they're talking about before they communicate a strategic goal, because if that strategic goal is not met, they're going to look like an idiot. So, you know, it's costly to communicate your values because if people don't agree with that, they won't know, will not follow you. It's also costly communicating, you know, ambitious goals. Now, I could be the most charismatic guy on the planet and I might give you a super charismatic speech to motivate you to run 100 meters in under 8 seconds and you might try and you'll fail and you might try again and you'll fail and I might motivate you again but, you know, after failing 20 times because, you know, that even Usain Bolt can't run the 100 meters in under 8 seconds, I’m going to look like an idiot. So, again, you need to have very good insights and be a good expert in the system to start using these techniques because you can't just communicate any kind of goals. You need to know what's realizable and what is possible. So, you know, the goal must provide aim, must be ambitious, must be achievable. And then the last aspect is signaling your confidence that this goal can be reached. So, those are the two major aspects. So, framing is the symbolic, meaning attracting attention. Substance is what we're doing, why and focusing on the morals and on the collective sentiments. And then the final thing is delivery. That's the non-verbal, the use of voice, gesturing, non-verbal signaling. And there's a myth. Let me quickly put this on the table that, you know, 94% or whatever of communication is non-verbal, is absolutely not true. What is true is that if we don't have access to hearing what a person says, then the look will matter. Obviously, I’ve shown that myself, I’ve published a paper in Science that shows that. If you only have thin slices, then non-verbal may matter but as soon as a person starts talking, then you, you know, that will override whatever delivery you have. I mean, if you have some idiot saying complete rubbish in a very charismatic way, you're not going to listen to him or her. So, you know, and we talk about that also in a paper we just recently published where we analyze Ted talks and we can predict very well which Ted talk will go viral, just on the basis of the speech and holding constant how the person looks and controlling for voice and gesturing and all that. When we have a horse race between gesturing and the verbal, the verbal beats it completely. The reason is because if I’m speaking metaphorically, if I’m speaking values, then non-verbal behavior will more likely co-occur with this. If nonverbal behavior occurs and there's absolutely no substance in the talk, it's not going to matter. If there is good substance to talk, then whether or not you have non-verbal behavior, you know, if you have it, it will strengthen the talks. I’m not saying it doesn't matter but it's like the glacage, you know, the icing on the cake, but you can't just eat the icing. That was a metaphor, by the way.
Radek: Well, yeah, I just… like, before I move on, I also wanted to point out like, after reading your paper and reading this charismatic leadership tactics, I started to note them more often. Just like, you know, just like when you get to know about the rhetoric and you start to see that in movies, I had the same. And recently, I was speaking with one of my clients, the CEO and I realized, so, he told me about the training and that we will be doing, and he said, ‘so, we are getting there in four different charts and we want to come back in one’. In four boats, we're coming back in one boat. So, just… and I just pointed out to him…
John Antonakis: It was a nice metaphor.
Radek: Yeah, that's how you speak charisma and that's how you actually use that. And he wasn't actually aware of that. So, you know, building it probably through some observation, through some social context, he wasn't trained and he kind of naturally figured out how to speak to people so they are inspired, they are willing to follow. But it's good that we actually know how it happened, so now it's…
John Antonakis: Yeah. I see that a lot, Radek, that, you know, when I train managers, the natural level of managers, you know, some is higher than others. Some have a higher level than others. And, you know, oftentimes, the ones that are pretty charismatic, don't even realize what they do to… I mean, they know they're charismatic, they know they have an influence over others, they know that people see them as that but oftentimes, they don't even know why they are seen like that. It's funny. My father did that a lot. He was a local kind of political leader in South Africa and he… I know and I remember and I’ve also looked at some of the stuff that he did was really filled with… full of metaphor, you know, and I asked him how do you know about that? Well, he didn't know, he just emulated leaders that he had heard speaking who were charismatic and lo and behold, he was using a lot of these techniques without even realizing it.
Radek: That's really… that's also optimistic to some way that sometimes we are not really starting from scratch, sometimes we do have some of those ingredients. And now, I wanted to talk with you about how to learn this charisma and especially, I know your paper from 2011, you mentioned already this, ‘Can charisma be taught?’ And I got amused by the technique that you are using there. And just let me tell you how I understood that, because I’m also really into learning and teaching and this really… it blew my mind that that you can train people in this way to be that. I find it very engaging, fun and still you use the paper, you use the experiment to show that it's also effective. So, what I understood is that you used some of the charismatic speeches that are recorded. I’m not sure if from movies or from some political leader’s speeches, and then what participants were trying, were doing during the training, they were emulating, they were mirroring the this speech. Is that so? And then, if you could tell me like, how did you come up with it? How did it actually work in the training?
John Antonakis: So, in the training, usually what I do is I create an intrigue about, you know, what charisma is and, you know, most people think it's some kind of mystical quality and we start off by showing how appearances can matter and make people seem more influential. And then, you know, the million-dollar question is, you know, people when they first look at us, their sizes up, they look at our age, sex, height and put a price on our tag. You know, if we look like a million dollars, they fill in the blanks and assume we have lots of positive characteristics. Can we change the price people put on our tags? And then I switch to, you know, I present, you know, little video case studies of a leader who, you know, one who's maybe very charismatic and one who's not. One who uses more carrots and sticks and one who uses more words to motivate. And then I ask participants to, you know, describe why these two leaders are different. Typically, they look at the outcome, you know, ‘I like this person, he's warmer, he's this, he's that’, but they don't really see what it is that makes the person more charismatic, they don't at all identify the use of metaphor and values and contrast and questions. These things just go right by them. And then what I do is I formally explain the theory of charisma, the definition of charisma and then the techniques. And then we go back and we watch the videos again and then we stop sentence by sentence to identify where there is a technique. So, when I have more time and I can train students or managers in a longer time frame, you know, then we may look at Martin Luther King's speech and sentence by sentence, go through it, so that they get accustomed to identifying the techniques first. Because, to produce it is very difficult if you don't know what it is exactly. So, you know, they then become experts in identifying, you know, ‘here's a metaphor, here's a contrast, here's a three part list, here's a question’, and then we show a few more video scenes, so that they become really well versed in understanding the importance of it. I also show them the economic impact. So, I’ve done lots of experiments and I’ve estimated how much it will bring you if you're more charismatic. So, you know, there's so many consultants out there, so many people who say so much and, you know, a lot of people, you know, I might be super charismatic and explaining to you something but I could be selling snake oil to you and it wouldn't work. So, you know, I also tell my participants to have a healthy dosage of skepticism when they hear anything. And, you know, ‘what's the evidence, how do you know it works?’ So, I use a lot of science to actually demonstrate, you know, that these things work and why they work. You know, if you're going to convince someone to get vaccinated against Covid, you know, one of the best things is to explain how it works and also show evidence how it works. So, I do that a lot. I present lots of evidence. And then, if I have time, then I get them to record a speech and they try to deliver it and use themes that are charismatic. We use peer-to-peer feedback where other people watch the speech and then try to code the techniques and see how well they do, and then they try again. There's also an article I have in the Harvard Business Review which is called, I think, ‘Learning charisma’, so if your viewers just Google ‘Learning charisma, John Antonakis’, you will fall on the Harvard Business Review page. I think you can download five articles for free a month, so they can download mine. And in that article, also, we explain all these things. We write the article also in a way that uses the techniques and those of you who might start reading that article, you'll see it's very easy to read because we use the very techniques we profess. So, it does take time, it takes practice. You know, one can't just, you know, snap their finger and become more charismatic. But, you know, like learning to run, I don't know, 10 kilometers and then 20 kilometers in a marathon, you know, if one is reasonably okay, well constituted physically, you know, one can do it but it takes a lot of effort and a lot of practice, it's the same with charisma.
Radek: So, firstly, to identify, to learn how to see that a specific technique was used, then to learn how to design it, how to craft it and then to practice the delivery and to get feedback on how do you… how did you go? So, actually, while peer feedback you're also learning to identify.
John Antonakis: Exactly. And not only that, it's also like carrying, you know, the ring of Frodo. Do you know the Lord of the Rings?
Radek: Yes. Yes, of course.
John Antonakis: Yeah. So, once you have this knowledge, I mean, it's there. And it's a big burden because you will see yourselves when you start using these techniques, that people will react to you. So, you know, it's really important also that one uses it to do good, ideally. So, I don't just work with anyone and any kind of company. And then, the other thing is, like you said earlier, you start seeing it everywhere. So, I think the biggest learning opportunities anyone has once they know these things is they start seeing in movies, in politicians, CEOs using these techniques and how people react to them. And, you know, depending on who your audience is also, you may or may not come across as charismatic. So, you could signal charisma all you want if you're Barack Obama but if you're going down to Oklahoma, in some rural county, they're not going to listen to you because they're extremely conservative. You know, if Trump goes there, even though he's not so charismatic, they're going to love him. You know, Obama is going to be looked like a clown. Trump in New York or in Los Angeles will be seen like a clown because they don't agree with his value. So, you know, also what really matters is can you read your audience and do you know also, you know, what they stand for? And there's no way that Obama is going to move anyone in Oklahoma or in rural Texas because there's such a big divide in the values that he is signaling and what they expect. And it would be dishonest for him to not share his values. So, you know, by sharing your values, you make yourself very vulnerable. And I think that also makes you more trustworthy but it also signals to your enemies what you stand for, and I think it's the most honest thing to do. So, you know, whether or not I like Trump, and I don't, you know, at least, he was well, mostly honest about what he stood for. I mean, although he's very confused about the realities in life and, you know, who won the election and was it rigged and all that but, you know, what he defended, I guess he transmitted quite transparently. You know, he was not transparent…
Radek: That's interesting. It's also something, I think, I read on in some paper about influencers on social media is that only those who actually present some value, something you can agree or disagree with, are the ones that usually bring more attention. So, either the… some people are attracted to them, some people are opposed but basically, those who are willing to start being influencers, they need to get over this, you know, safety zone of just not sharing any of your views, any of your opinions because that's not where you actually make any change, make any influence. You know, if it's not fashion but just some of the views, like political views, influencers. We have plenty of them in in Poland.
John Antonakis: Yeah. Also so, you know, if you're charismatic and you do signal your values transparently, you will either be loved or loathed. Basically, that's what's going to happen.
Radek: Yeah. Well, I wonder… So, I think we made it clear, and thank you for that because this is really interesting also to notice is that so, when we want to work on our charisma, it's more important to work on the rhetorics to work on how do we speak and what do we… like, what do we say. And this delivery is just a spicing on… an icing, as we actually use this metaphor. I wonder though, like, from, you know, from everything in terms of gestures, in terms of tone, did you spot some particular factors that are more important than the others? Like, when we have, you know, all the work done on rhetorics and we want to start improving the delivery or what should we focus on?
John Antonakis: Well, I would say probably, voice and speaking rhythmically. And, you know, and putting some variability in one's voice. You know, if one just speaks completely flat, that makes it more difficult. But still, you know, people like Mandela or Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher, you know, their voice delivery was very poor but yet they were still seen very charismatic, because the way they spoke, what they said is extremely rhetorically rich. So, I would say, probably, voice matters more. You know, non-verbal behavior, if you are sure about what you're discussing, it comes out just naturally. And I do this very often, I get people to speak to each other and the other day, I did it with a bunch of Finnish managers and, you know, the Fins are not so renowned for their non-verbal expressiveness, yet I’ve done this in Nordic countries. Lithuania, recently, where they all claim that they're not very expressive. But, you know, if I ask two people to speak and, you know, I tell one, you know, explain the most important event in your childhood that made you who you are or whatever, you know, I asked them to speak about and, you know, they talk about something personal that will recount and they will recount an anecdote. You know, non-verbal behavior just naturally comes out. And I secretly film them with my phone and then I play back to them and I show them just how naturally the expressive they are, so I don't even need to work on that. You know, if you're talking in a bar or you're talking to your grandmother or to your grandfather or to a friend or what have you, you know, body language just comes out naturally. It's just that people get very nervous and very stiff when they speak in front of an audience, when they speak in front of a camera, on the radio or what have you. And because of this nervousness, it kind of locks them up and they can't really express themselves. So, I think when the words are easily flowing, then the gestures follow very easily.
Radek: And about the speaking rhythm, what I understand from that is to have… to sometimes speed up, to sometimes slow down, depending on what you're saying, to have some pauses, if that's what you mean by that?
John Antonakis: Yeah. Yeah. And I think all this will come naturally if the person has a good idea about what they're going to speak. So yeah, you know, show some variation, pause, stop and think, you know, if you're angry about something, you know, really stress the point or speak slower about something. So, some variation will help keep attention of the audience. So, you know, if one just speaks flat the whole time, you know, I mean, obviously, it's going to be a bit difficult but if what you're saying is so important that you're speaking it flat, still people will listen. But it just makes it a bit harder.
Radek: All right. I have already three pages of notes on what to do to be more charismatic, what to focus on. And I think we can maybe conclude our conversation with one more research paper you did, the paper ‘Just wars, just speeches’, where you were sharing about why it is important to learn charisma, how does it benefit the economic perspective of your company. Could you maybe brief us into this research?
John Antonakis: Yeah, so, this papers in press, in the journal called ‘Management Science’ and it's work that I did with economist Christian Sander, Roberto Webber and Giovanna Dada and I think the most impressive part of this research is probably the first study where we set up a temporary firm, we hired workers. We were in Birmingham and we worked with Adecco. We hired temporary workers through the usual channels where they hire temporary workers to help us with a mail sorting task and we randomized workers into different conditions. They were exposed to the experimenters that told them how to do the task and what to do. We paid them for a full day's work. You know, to travel to Adecco, to train them to go back home, work on this task and then come back the next day with the fruits of their labor. But they did not know they were in experiment and what we did is we had an actor who gave them a five-minute motivational speech, either charismatically or not. And when it was not charismatic, we paid a fixed wage, and in another condition, we paid a bonus if they passed the critical threshold. So, our interest was to see in all conditions, they had a fixed wage. In the bonus condition, if they passed the critical threshold, we started paying them bonuses. So, we calculated this critical threshold in the pilot that we did, where we saw what an average worker could do and then we calculated how much we could pay for an extra unit. So, this this is really a high powered economic bonus, the maximum we can pay, so that in the bonus condition we keep constant the cost of every additional male produced relative to the control group. So, when we compared high bonus condition to charisma condition, we observed that we couldn't distinguish the performance of a worker who's exposed to charisma or to bonuses. In other words, charisma produced an increase in performance as much as high-powered economic bonuses did, which is very curious and from economic perspective, it's… or psychological perspectives, very difficult to understand. But, you know, to the extent that the speaker can signal themes that, you know, touch the person's identity and make them feel good, to help reinforce the vision of the leader, you know, then they are intrinsically motivated to work hard for the leader. So, we showed this in the field with real workers and I don't think anyone has ever done any experiment of the sort in management or in applied psychology where you actually compare a treatment like leadership against one that's using high-powered economic bonuses. And then we also went into the lab to show that we can help four players who have to cooperate on a public good where the Nash Equilibrium is that every person will always defect, they will not contribute to the public good because they are worried that others will not. So, they are, you know, they're not going to take the risk to put money in a public pot. So, the way that we test this notion of whether leadership can help people cooperate is you give money to the players. Every round, they can decide whether to put the money in the public pot or keep it. Their payoff depends on how much money they keep each round and how much everyone else puts in the public pot, which we multiply by 0.4. So, the best thing to do is that everyone contributes all their money in the public pot and then we multiply it by 0.4 and then it goes back to everyone, so the collective interest is to cooperate on the public good but the selfish interest is that, you know, one… imagine, if I’m selfish, I expect the others to, you know, contribute to the public good and I’m going to free ride. You know, like the people who use public transport and never want to pay or, you know, that we share a field of grass and, you know, we have to equitably share this, so that all the cows can eat a little bit. You know, and I go in the night and I let my cows eat as much as possible, so yeah, my cows will profit but we destroy the public good if we do this. So, what we show is that with charisma, and especially in the condition where we get everyone in the lab to watch the video together, so they feel like they're in the same boat and not in four different boats, to use the metaphor from the CEO. When we make salient a collective identity, a charismatic leader will increase by approximately 20% the contributions to public good, relative to a controlled speech. And, you know, the control speeches we have in all my experiments are really… they're not bad speeches. We're not comparing a medicine against the poison. Because, you know, if you see a difference, is it because the medicine works and the poison kills more people? Is it because the medicine kills a lot of people and the… excuse me. The poison kills a lot of people and the medicine don't work? Or both kill people but the poison kills more people? So, that's another problem I see in our field is that, you know, high power poison versus low power poison. You know, it's a medicine versus a poison. And oftentimes, there's no control group in many experiments that I’ve done. So, you know, there's another big problem in my field is that unfortunately, the, you know, the experiments oftentimes not robustly done, there’s not an appropriate control group, there's not a proper baseline group, there are no equal demand effects that are made across treatments, so there's a lot still to be done, so we can understand what leadership is. But to do that, we really need a true science of leadership, and I guess that's also why I got stuck teaching Causal Analysis and Experimental Design. I’m really passionate about properly modeling and properly testing our hypotheses. And the goal is not to try to prove what we believe is true but to try to disprove it. So, if I believe that charisma really works, okay, let's find out one of the strongest ways to motivate people. That's money. Okay, let's test it against money and see how it does.
Radek: Wow. Yeah. So, I’m… Like, also to mention, I’m really impressed by the way you design your research and I think that's another reason to read them through for all of the aspiring scientists listening to us, to get to know a way… Like, what I like is not only that you really go forwardly into figuring out your research questions, finding out if they're true or not but also the way you're writing that it's actually something that can be read in the evening before sleep and won't really make us fall asleep but really understand better what you're dealing with, so…
John Antonakis: Not my statistics papers. So, about 30% of what I do is Applied Statistics and Econometrics. I think those will put you to sleep very quickly.
Radek: Thank you, and thank you very much for all the insights you shared. I wonder, if someone would like to read more, where would you send them to, how to find more of your work?
John Antonakis: On my webpage or through Google Scholar. I think Google Scholar probably can direct you to preprint, so if one comes to my webpage at the University, most of my papers, we have put up the preprints. So, I know that some journals are pay walled and, you know, one has to pay for the articles but usually, if you go to the professor's webpage, at least on my webpage, almost all of my publications are up online and they’re freely downloadable. It's not the final version, you know, from the journal but it is the final version we submitted, so all the content is in there. So, you know, very… I’m very happy also if anyone would like to have the final versions, just email me and I’ll email you the final version in PDF.
Radek: Thank you. And I think that's the conclusion. I really know a lot more about the charisma and what to pay attention to, I’m afraid a bit of this noticing it everywhere but I think that's the perk of knowing, so thank you very much for that.
John Antonakis: Thank you, Radek, for inviting me.
Radek: Thank you for listening to this episode of Science of Business podcast. Follow Valueships on LinkedIn and Facebook to be up to date with future episodes and live streams from the recording.