What Time of Day Are You Most Charismatic?

What Time of Day Are You Most Charismatic?

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New research shows that you can increase your charisma and ability to inspire people by being more mindful about the time of day in which you seek to do so. It turns out that our natural circadian rhythms play a big role in how charismatic we are. That’s because the circadian process is a powerful driver of cognitive function, moods, and behaviors. We communicate more clearly and demonstrate more positive emotions when we are at peak levels of alertness during typical periods of wakefulness and are less effective in these activities during typical periods of sleep, even if we are awake at those times. This article discusses how you can leverage your natural rhythms to help improve your charisma and, ultimately, how effective you are at inspiring others.

In popular media, charisma is depicted as something that you either have, or you don’t. And those that have it are often inspirational leaders who are always ready and able to motivate others. This depiction, however, overlooks an important physiological reality: circadian rhythms.

The circadian process is the 24-hour biological cycle that influences a host of physiological processes — most notably the timing of sleep and wakefulness. The circadian process is a powerful driver of cognitive function, moods, and behaviors. We communicate more clearly and demonstrate more positive emotions when we are at peak levels of alertness during typical periods of wakefulness and are less effective in these activities during typical periods of sleep, even if we are awake at those times. However, not everyone’s circadian process looks the same; different people can have different rhythms. Some people have a tendency to wake early in the morning and go to bed early as well. These people are often referred to as “larks.” Others have a tendency to wake late and go to bed late and are known as “owls.” These differences are referred to as someone’s chronotype.

Charismatic people display positive emotions such as hope, optimism, and excitement. Leaders seeking to be charismatic must regulate their emotional displays in order to infuse such excitement into their employees. Our author team of Indiana University and University of Washington researchers expected that when leaders were at relatively low points in their circadian rhythms (characterized by low levels of alertness, energy, and poor moods), they’d be less charismatic. In contrast, we expected that when leaders were at relatively high points in their circadian rhythms, they would be more charismatic. Thus, we hypothesized that morning larks would be more charismatic early in the morning than late at night, and night owls would be more charismatic late at night than early in the morning.

Our article in Leadership Quarterly shows how we tested this idea in a lab experiment. We asked a set of college students to complete a survey assessing if they were morning larks or night owls. This individual difference in circadian rhythms captures our general sleep-wake cycle preferences, also known as chronotype.  We then selected 131 who were larks or owls to participate in a role-play task in which they would be leaders of the student body speaking at a graduation ceremony. We randomly assigned participants to give these speeches either early in the morning (in sessions beginning at 7 AM) or late at night (in sessions beginning at midnight). We then had three observers evaluate the degree to which the speeches were inspirational. Consistent with our expectations, chronotype alignment was an important predictor of charisma. Larks gave more inspirational speeches in the 7 AM session than the midnight session, and owls gave more inspirational speeches in the midnight session than the 7 AM session.

Extending this idea, we also examined the role of “followers.” Follower perceptions of the charisma of their leaders are driven in part by the actions of the leader, but also by how the followers feel in the moment. We expected that how the followers felt would be driven in part by their own circadian rhythms. When followers are in the low energy points of their circadian rhythms, their moods will suffer, and they will attribute some of that to the lack of charisma of their leaders. The “rah rah” speeches of leaders are less effective when followers are tired and just do not want to hear it. Thus, we expected that followers who are larks would perceive their leaders as more charismatic early in the morning than late at night, and followers who are owls would perceive their leaders as more charismatic late at night than early in the morning.

To test this idea, we again had a sample of college students complete a survey to measure their chronotype, and then invited a set of larks and owls to our research laboratory to view some of the speeches that we’d recorded in the leader phase of the study. We had the participants in this study evaluate the recordings to rate the charisma of the leader giving the speech. Again, we randomly assigned larks and owls to a 7 AM session or a midnight session. Consistent with our expectations, larks perceived the speakers in the videos to have more charisma in the early-morning sessions than the late-night sessions, and owls perceived the speakers in the videos to have more charisma in the late-night sessions than in the early-morning sessions. This suggests that it is easier to inspire larks early in the morning, and owls late at night.

This initial research utilized a restricted sample of college students and thus should be seen as a preliminary test, and workplaces likely introduce several complexities and contingencies to the effects we discuss. However, these studies provide provisional empirical support for our theory that circadian rhythms influence charisma on both sides of the leadership equation (leaders and followers). This means that if you want to inspire your followers, you should consider the time of day from two angles. First, consider what time of day you are most capable of being charismatic. If you are a lark, you are better off aiming for a morning opportunity to use your charisma to inspire your followers (or at least not late in the day). If you are an owl, you are better off aiming for such opportunities late in the afternoon (or at least not early in the morning). Second, consider what time of day your followers will be best positioned to be inspired. Some of your followers may not be receptive to charisma early in the morning, and some may not be receptive late in the day. You may find it useful to complete a chronotype survey, and encourage your team to do so as well. This can help you inform what you do across the day.

In the easiest contexts, you have the same chronotype as your followers. If everyone is a lark, aim for inspiration opportunities in the morning, and if everyone is an owl, aim for later in the day. But in most contexts, you will not have complete alignment. When this is the case, you will need to look for compromise solutions. Typically, a good approach is to avoid extremely early or late times, likely settling for roughly the middle of the day. A good time to aim for could be 11 AM — it’s not too early for owls or too late for larks, and it avoids lunchtime and the 3:30 PM slump. The exact time of day you select, of course, should be driven by your context. It can also be beneficial to shift your work and your leadership styles across the day, depending on how you are feeling.

The bottom line is you can increase your charisma and your ability to inspire your team by being more mindful about the time of day in which you seek to do so. So don’t ignore your circadian rhythm, work with it to boost your effectiveness.

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