Article on Cats, Dogs, and Charisma

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What is charisma? | Cats and Dogs | Soft on People, Hard on Issues

Synopsis: Edwina Biuscchi, a Senior Performance Coach with the global executive coaching firm Inside Out®, uses this article to explore what makes a charismatic leader, the ways that you can attain more charisma for yourself, and compares the style of three senior members in an executive meeting.


Developing Charisma
(Lessons from the World of
Cats and Dogs)

by Edwina Biucchi, Senior Coach, Inside Out®

What is charisma?

Originating from the Greek ‘kharis’ meaning ‘divine favour’ or ‘gift’, most sources agree that charisma refers to a quality of those who have uncanny ability to charm or influence people. The Wikipedia definition describes a charismatic person as someone who generally ‘projects unusual calmness, confidence, assertiveness, dominance, authenticity and focus’ and who almost always has ‘superb communication and/or oratorical skills’. French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2003) stated that charisma can only be assured if other people agree that someone has it.  So you either have it or you don’t. Correct?

No, not at all!  Even if we are not all blessed with a high degree of innate personal magnetism, many leadership experts and coaches believe that charisma is something that can be learnt, and that with it comes more influence and better leadership of teams, families, companies, countries.  In my own coaching and Leadership Workshops, I’ve found that supporting clients to make very small changes in voice patterns, presentation, body language – the non-verbal behaviours – has a profound effect in not only on how that person appears externally,  but also how they feel internally.

Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, and author of The Luck Factor, gives some hints for attaining more charisma. These include:

  • Use an open body posture, hands away from the face when talking
  • Stand upright, relax, hands apart with palms forwards or upwards
  • With individuals: let people know they matter and you enjoy being around them, develop a genuine smile, nod when they talk, briefly touch their upper arm, and maintain eye contact for person-to-person conversations
  • With a group: be comfortable, move around to appear enthusiastic, lean slightly forward and look at all parts of the group
  • Message: move beyond status quo and make a difference, be controversial, new simple to understand, counter-intuitive
  • Speech: be clear, fluent, forceful and articulate, evoke imagery, use an upbeat tempo, occasionally slow for tension or emphasis

These are useful tips, but perhaps daunting to some. Being  ‘clear, fluent, forceful and articulate,’ may not be your natural style, and the thought of using metaphor or imagery in your talks could be frightening rather than encouraging. For those who prefer their tips to have a practical bent, I suggest putting the ‘cat and dog’ theory of leadership into practice.

Cats and Dogs

Michael Grinder is a world renown expert in the power of influence and non-verbal communication.

Part of a coach’s work involves sitting in on a client’s meetings and noting behaviours and attitudes that are prevalent at the table.  It’s fascinating work, made all the more interesting since I graduated from “Group Dynamics”, a course run by Michael Grinder, brother of the equally famous John (a founding name in the world of NLP). Michael addresses the intriguing question:  ‘what makes a charismatic leader?’

His answer is, ‘someone who is not in love with the influence of power, but rather is in love with the power of influence.’ In other words, someone who knows how to combine the ‘cat’ and ‘dog’ aspects of their personality. Cats tend to have a ‘credible’ persona – authoritative demeanour, flat-toned voice tone that curls down at the end, body language calm and still – and tend to command immediate attention. Dogs have a more ‘approachable’ style – a more friendly demeanour, they smile and nod more, use open palms when speaking and their voice pattern is lilting and curls up at the end. We all have access to both these sets of qualities, but knowing how and when to use them is the important issue.

According to Michael Grinder’s research, around 70% of the Western world are ‘dogs’ and 30% are ‘cats.’ Also, statistically, women are more likely to be dogs. In the business world, it is the cats that tend to be first in line for promotions and who get the leadership jobs.  Does that mean they are the best people for those jobs?  Not necessarily, unless they also know how to use their ‘dog’ qualities as well as their ‘cat’ tendencies; cats are sometimes ruthless in pursuit of their career, and may not care a jot for any human debris left in their wake as they plough through the waters of their personal ambition.

So how do you know if you are more of a dog or a cat? I say ‘more of,’ because of course we are using generalisations here. But the generalisation is useful, if only to help us understand our natural style and make changes that will increase our influence and charisma.

Soft on People, Hard on Issues

While facilitating an executive meeting recently – with a debrief afterwards to give feedback on the style of the three senior people attending – here’s what I noticed about their non-verbal communication.


David (almost 100 per cent CAT) 

  • Did not bother with pleasantries, but sat straight down at the table
  • Sat with head and body still
  • Sat slightly forward on his chair with straight back
    British blue cat on white background

    Cats tend to have a ‘credible’ persona – authoritative demeanour, flat-toned voice tone, calm and still body language

  • Looked attentively (without smiling) at the speaker, or leant back, looked down and played with his Blackberry
  • Hands under the table or clasped on the table
  • Appeared bored with the conversation
  • Tendency to aggressively attack others, fingers pointing, while looking intently and critically at the other person, breathing high in the chest, thus making his voice sound angry
  • Ignored his PA who brought him coffee
  • Spoke little, but when he did used a  ‘credible’ or ‘cat’ voice pattern – flat, decisive and turned down at the end of the sentence

Diagnosis: Too cat-like

ADVICE TO DAVID: 

  • Start using a more approachable style to show you value people
  • When conversing normally or praising others, use eye contact, nod the head, smile, show interest in that person
  • When giving negative or critical feedback, use a ‘third point’ – e.g., a flip-chart or paper to back up your statements. Guide the other person’s eyes to that piece of paper and look at it together. In that way, the relationship with that person is preserved and you show them the problem is the issue, not them personally
  • Breathe low to reduce the effect of ‘anger’ in your voice and encourage others to relax too
  • Seek more influence, less power
  • ‘Soft on people, hard on issues’ is the key

Sarah (almost 100% dog)

  • Moved around in her chair
  • Fiddled with pens

    Dogs have a more ‘approachable’ style – a friendly demeanour, they smile and nod more, and their voice pattern curls up at the end.

  • Put hands up to her face or leant her chin on her hand
  • Constantly smoothed or twiddled her hair
  • Lolled in her chair
  • Swung her legs
  • Turned fully to the coffee bringer and thanked her profusely
  • Spoke often and quickly
  • Asked questions or commented a good deal with a lilting voice turned up at the ends
  • Smiled all the time, even when serious issues were being discussed
  • Threw glances at David to see his reaction

Diagnosis: Too dog-like

No one took much notice of Sarah, even when she had something interesting and pointed to say – which she did – because she threw the comments away in what appeared to be a weak interjection. If the others did look her way, it was because her behaviour was distracting, annoying or unnerving. This was a classic scenario:  a woman with an ‘approachable’ style complains that she makes a great point, no one listens, and then a few minutes later a man with a ‘credible’ style repeats it and everyone agrees. David repeated one of her points (without reference to her) and everyone nodded and wrote it down.

ADVICE FOR SARAH:

  • Adopt some ‘cat’ characteristics – still body language and flat voice pattern turned down at the end – particularly when making important points
  • Wait for someone to take a breath before interrupting to give yourself some airspace
  • If necessary, raise your voice over the hubbub of voices to get attention (e.g.,  ‘Just one thing!’), pause until all are looking your way, then speak in a more whispery voice to make your point – but a SLOW, whispery voice. This is a great attention grabber
  • Breathe low in your abdomen to take your voice level down and reduce any possible stress. If you breathe high, you will sound whiney or breathy
  • Always use pauses when speaking and talk more slowly. “This … is the direction … we need to take.” It makes you seem even more intelligent!
  • Put your hand out (palm down) when making your point and leave it there, head still, for a split second longer than you think you want to. This will also grab attention!
  • Engage everyone around the table with your eyes

Indira (50% DOG and 50% CAT)

  • Welcomed everyone in a friendly manner as they entered, with a personal interchange or question
  • At this early stage of the proceedings, Indira spoke lightly with palms open, a nodding head and a smile, and an approachable voice pattern (lilting and turning up at the end)
  • Gave a general introduction in an impassioned voice, pausing, breathing low, engaging all in her topic
  • Engaged questioners by turning towards them, listening and nodding

    A good balance between Cat and Dog is best.

  • When turning to the issues she used a flip-chart, making the information visual and using a ‘third point’
  • When dealing with these issues, she changed her body language to ‘credible’ – still head, still body, set face, voice tone flat and curling down at the end, pausing, looking intelligent and breathing low
  • With one particularly difficult issue – where someone at the table had made a mistake with figures that had produced some severe consequences – she took pains not to blame the perpetrator who was present (David did), but instead presented the issue as a problem for the team to solve together. They rose to the occasion with faces saved

Diagnosis: A good mix of Cat and Dog and a promising charismatic leader

Indira gained the respect of the room. She was soft on people, hard on issues, able to move from ‘approachable’ to ‘credible’ appropriately – half dog, half cat. She sought to influence rather than dictate with power. As she had not cast any blame on anyone in particular, the person responsible for the ‘mistake’ took the blame himself because it was a safe environment in which to do so. David went up to her afterwards and asked her some questions. As a leader, therefore, Indira is likely to gain the affection of the ‘dogs’ in the Company, and the ‘respect’ of the cats. She will also be a good intermediary, interpreting messages for each group.

ADVICE FOR INDIRA

  • Keep up the good work!
  • Coach others in an adaptable cat/dog style that is soft on people and hard on issues
  • Have a coach work with your team on the power of influence and a balance between cat and dog qualities

Confidence, charisma and consistency will increase your ability to lead and influence others.

Clearly, for a leader to excel, behind these practical techniques there must be a confident, calm and emotionally intelligent individual whose behaviour is consistent.

If you practice your ‘cat’ and ‘dog’ systematically, you will be amazed at the results and find that your increased confidence will lead to greater influence in your organisation.

About the author: Edwina Biuscchi works with senior individuals and their teams to encourage peak performance and emotionally intelligent leadership. She runs regular workshops on Impact and Style. The firm she works for, Inside Out, is a global executive coaching firm with a highly select team of experienced coaches located throughout five continents, speaking more than 13 languages. The company strives to be best in class within the field, offering highly customised and sophisticated coaching services.

You can contact Edwina at Tel: +44 (0)20 8341 7785 or by email at edwinabiucchi@insideout.biz

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