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Clients and Killer Sharks: The Charisma Myth

Are leaders born or made?

In my search to answer this age old question, I stumbled across 'The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism' by Olivia Fox Cabane.

Cabane takes the side of nature versus nurture, with the book giving step-by-step instructions on how to be more charismatic. The majority of her lessons focus on what is essentially manipulation - mimicking body language, feigning attentiveness, etc. While useful, this really isn't anything new.

What I did find insightful about the book, was her discussion of how charismatic individuals handle difficult situations. As humans, we are programmed with the 'fight-or-flight' response when faced with a dangerous or stressful situation. Our brain shuts down any function not deemed vital to survival and pumps us full of adrenaline, propelling us to action without thought. While useful when drowning or being charged by a bear, this paralyzation is not so great when dealing with an unhappy client or project deadline. Evolution hasn't caught up with our modern economy where a 'fight-or-flight' response hinders our "professional survival" by shutting down our cognitive functions.

Applying this to Project Management

I've found this reaction to be a common enemy of the Project Manager. Often when something fails on a client's website, I can feel my heart jump into my throat and my ability to problem solve disappear. However, instead of combating the reaction, Cabane suggests embracing the discomfort. Part of the issue is the stigma we place on this response, causing us to feel ashamed, again preventing us from being productive. Once we accept the discomfort as something totally normal and common, we reduce its power and consequently, the negative effects.

Since reading this book, I've found myself better able to control my 'fight-or-flight' response in uncomfortable situations. Realizing my body is sending the same signals when having a tough conversation with a client as if I was being attacked by a shark, really helps put things in perspective.

Date posted: December 12, 2012


Interesting how accepting takes the power out of the reaction. How was the rest of the book? A worthwhile read?

It's a quick read and it has all the lessons summarized in the back, so worth skimming over 30 minutes at the library.

As long as your flight is a temporary unease that you want to rectify, I say you allow it to happen. Always defaulting to fight leads to thoughtless statements and actions. If you run across a bear that is blocking your path to survival, you still have to deal with it eventually. Run and get your tranq gun!

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