Do You Have to be Good-Looking to have Charisma?

–The Charisma Chronicles: episode #2 of 10

If you stop and think about it, people with charisma tend to be good-looking. But maybe there is a chicken and egg thing going on — are they charismatic because they are good-looking or good-looking because they are charismatic?

We learned in episode #1 that charisma is about emotions and not looks. Here’s the thing, as humans, we use heuristics or short-cuts all the time to make judgments. And one of the short-cuts we make is based on how things look.

Imagine you have come into some money and are looking to buy a million-dollar house. Today you are meeting your realtor for the first time and they arrive in a Toyota Corolla with one or more hubcaps missing. Confession time, I used to drive a Toyota Corolla and from time to time a hubcap would fall off. Not sure why, but to this day if you see a Toyota Corolla on the road a lot of times a hubcap is missing. But, I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, the realtor rolls up in the Toyota Corolla. Be honest, before you even exchange hello’s, how has your impression of the realtor been affected?

Now let’s rewind and imagine the same exact situation except this time the realtor arrives in an impeccable, almost impossible shiny metallic blue Maserati? Be honest, how do you like them now?

Here’s the thing. You are a savvy house buyer so you will know in the next few weeks whether the realtor is a good realtor or not. However, you are more likely to favor them if they arrive in a nicer car. The same goes for tasting bottles of wine. Even sommeliers can be affected in experiments where they play around with the labels. Being good looking gives you what I like to call “simulated charisma.” Our brains work in a way that we give good-looking people bonus points in the game of charisma. However, good looks will only take you so far.

Good looks cannot actually create charisma — hence the term, simulated charisma.

The takeaway is that how you present yourself can make it harder or easier for your charisma to reveal itself. I’m not saying obsess over your looks, but you need to be aware of the limited extent to which it matters. Don’t make things harder for yourself. In the same way, you wouldn’t show up to an interview with a stain on your tie, don’t present yourself in a way that you know will make it harder for the person to be for you.

A final pointer is associations matter, too. The school you went to, the family you come from, the circles you move around in all have a simulated charisma effect.

Back to our realtor in the Toyota Corolla. Suppose they arrive with Richard Branson in the passenger seat. How do you like me now?

Joe Kwon
Joe Kwon
JOE, the Connection Counselor is the host of the "Why It Works" podcast and author of the "Unlock Your" series of books. Whether coaching busy professionals or inspiring audiences, his goal is to help you unlock the best version of yourself. A student of Aikido, self-help book junkie, and shaved head proponent, Joe spends magical summers at Hogwarts and dreams of kokyunage. He is the founder of JoeKwonJoe Coaching, which focuses on teaching universal principles through embodied learning. Joe holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Virginia, a J.D. from Georgetown University, and lives in New Jersey with his family. Joe’s first book, Unlock Your Charisma includes a ground-breaking definition of charisma that finally reveals the actual mechanism that generates charisma. If you can’t explain how something works, you can’t get more of it! Read more about it in his ThriveGlobal article: How to Develop Charisma — for real.


  1. A final pointer is associations matter, too. The school you went to, the family you come from, the circles you move around in all have a simulated charisma effect……….I guess I am doomed. I grew up in a tenant farmers house, dropped out of school at fifteen, went on the road for six years, bought my Mom and Dad a new home and car, wore my hair long and rode a Harley. At Thirty Five sat on and advisory board for the county’s oldest Western Wear company with over 200 stores. At sixty seven I changes the whole dynamic of a large company saved them a lot of money and made them a lot of money and have been asked to be on an advisory board to grow the concept.
    I love your article and agree with you but nothing is written in stone. Sometimes it is what you know that matters. First lean all the rule then break them. Thank you for sharing

  2. Such a thought-provoking article Joe. Now I dare say that picture of your gopher at the front of your read absolutely drew me in. Yes, your great penmanship lead me further, but I was beheld by the feeling roused by the quirkiness and the character of the visual stimulus of the article. It is the same in the day-to-day, I am drawn by a feeling I get when I first see someone and it is unexplainable. I then feel I engage with them and quickly find myself subconsciously asking: do the emit a combination of manners, personality, and generally a good feeling about themselves and then how are they treating others around them? Often, “good looks” do not draw me it is something deeper and more visceral, a spark, a sense of something intangible that draws me to want to know more about someone. For what ever reason the late comedian, author and producer Johnathan Winters comes to mind right now. He was an odd and non-classically handsome looking man, who dealt with his own issues, but he was known for his generous spirit, his obvious good humour and he was known to treat other members of the staff he worked with reverence and respect. To me that man, exuded charisma many fold. Perhaps charisma is not something that can be absolutely quantified. Is it possible it is so individual to us all and hinges on what our previous tastes and preferences have already predisposed us towards?

    • Thanks, Maureen for your thoughtful comments. As you intuited, charisma comes from a deeper place than just surface looks. I’d point out though that some people self-hypnotize themselves and project onto a good-looking person qualities and charisma that person may not have at all! It’s a sort of self-seduction. And to answer your question, charisma is largely dependent on the observer or perceiver. What is charismatic to me may not be to you. And what is charismatic to you now and just moments later can change. If you are on Facebook, would love it if you joined my newly formed group, the Charisma Crew where we discuss such matters. Would be great to add your voice to the mix.

  3. Hey Joe, how they appear at first glimpse might impress me or make me cringe, but once the personal interaction starts, that’s what matters to me. Is the person genuine, respectful, self-deprecating, relatable – those are the characteristics that will make me forget about their personal appearance or the kind of car that they drive. The charisma thing is a melange of so many factors, and granted that first impression is an important thing, it’s just not a disqualifying one, at least to me. A charismatic person is probably able to transcend any negative or overpowering first impression that they might give off… The simulated charisma is probably easy to pick up on, as wealth and fashion sense are not enough, on their own, to create a charismatic person. And as for people who encounter a charismatic person, they probably don’t realize that a person has it until they have a chance to personally interact, and then, upon reflection, think to themselves – “what a cool person that is…” We don’t often give it a lot of thought ahead of time: “Gee, I wonder if she is charismatic…” That usually isn’t on the menu of our thought processes before we meet someone. The point is well taken, you can have some of the ingredients, but that isn’t what makes charisma happen.

    • Yes! Totally agree it’s the personal interaction that is key, Tom.

      I think, and we are all guilty of this including myself, when we allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by looks or associations, it’s a bad thing. Either we project things onto a person that they don’t have and seduce ourselves or we put blinders on ourselves and miss the gem that is right in front of us.

      I would like to think I’m more impervious than most to simulated charisma, but our brains and heuristics don’t always concur.

      Thanks for your perspective, which I enjoy.

  4. Like it or not, Joe, first impressions do matter. Either extreme in your realtor example would turn me off. A middle of the road is usually best for creating a positive, or at least a neutral first impression. It is the same reason that I wouldn’t show up for a job interview wearing cutoffs a Budwiser teeshirt and flip flops.

    • Totally agree. First and last impressions have an outsized effect on our experiences. Appreciate your middle of the road mentality. I’m that way, too. Others may have a different emotional need and reaction than us, though and that’s ok, too. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I really appreciate it!



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