How Charles Manson Won Friends and Influenced People

Dale Carnegie Training in prison has been credited with transforming Charles Manson from a "low-level pimp" to a "frighteningly effective sociopath."

Written by Diane Brady and Originally Published in Bloomberg Businessweek on July 22, 2013

Dale Carnegie Training, the self-help program that’s shaped the lives of such people as Warren Buffett, Johnny Cash, and Emeril Lagasse, can claim an additional ardent disciple: Charles Manson.

In his new book, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, author Jeff Guinn credits Carnegie training with transforming Manson from “a low-level pimp” to the “frighteningly effective sociopath” who created a cult of killers in the late 1960s. Manson took classes in “How to Win Friends and Influence People," based on Carnegie’s iconic book, while doing time for car theft in a California federal prison in 1957. ”It was critical in shaping how he manipulated people,” says Guinn, noting that the young convict told people he’d enrolled to get strangers to open up to him.

Manson became especially obsessed with Chapter Seven, on how to get cooperation, and often practiced key lines in his cell, a former prison mate told Guinn. Carnegie’s advice—”Let the other fellow feel that the idea is his”—became vital in helping him recruit and control a band composed mostly of young women. Former “Family” members Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten (who was denied her 20th bid for parole last month) both say Manson mastered the technique: Not only did he often solicit and praise his followers’ advice, he was careful to frame every killing as a Family decision.

Jackie Kellso, who runs Dale Carnegie courses in New York, says, “it’s a very hard concept to understand.” The notion of letting others take credit for your ideas goes against what most people are taught, she explains, yet “it’s fundamental to being a good leader.”

Not that producing nimbler and more cunning criminals is the kind of success that boosts a global brand. Guinn says the Hauppage (N.Y.)-based company, which claims 8 million graduates, refused to help with his book. When contacted by Bloomberg Businessweek, a spokeswoman e-mailed a statement that “Dale Carnegie Training does not offer courses in prisons at this time” and focuses instead on working with “corporations, government agencies, individuals, and teams.”

The Dale Carnegie website lists the New York City Department of Corrections as a client, however, and prison clubs across the country have won accolades for helping inmates learn life skills. Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, also notes that its 119 facilities boast “a wide variety of training courses available to our inmates, including some locations that offer Toastmasters and Dale Carnegie.” The California state prison system in which the 78-year-old Manson is now incarcerated offers similar leadership training.

How people incorporate the lessons is up to them. As Carnegie himself wrote in his 1948 book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living: "Two men looked out from prison bars, One saw the mud, the other saw stars." With Manson not eligible for parole until 2027, that’s the kind of positive attitude he might want to hone.

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