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Blog: do we really want charismatic leaders?

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Last week our Business Development Director had a meeting with a major High Street Financial Institution. During his presentation of our Charisma Model Programme he was a little surprised when their HR Director asked: “Do we really want charismatic leaders?”

After a bit of exploration it became clear that the question was raised out of a very real concern – in the aftermath of ‘Fred the Shed’ (and arguably Bob Diamond) – that powerful, forceful leaders, with the ability to inspire followers headfirst into potentially reckless and out-of-control actions, might well have had their day.

As is my way, I found myself asking, so what’s the alternative then?  Are our Financial Institutions now so full of fear that they would actually prefer to appoint ‘uncharismatic leaders’? Would they really feel safer appointing leaders that were powerless and ineffective?
 
Perhaps they would be more comfortable limiting leadership’s ability to inspire strictly to average – or better still, just below average. That way The Board would never again be put at risk of feeling stirred into foolhardy decisions by some dangerously maverick leader.
 
And if they appointed somebody really uncharismatic, somebody who could carry out his (or her) duties without drawing too much attention to themselves, then all of the bad publicity about (what many would deem to be) outrageous bonuses might just go away….
 
For the rest of us however, the benefits of ‘uncharismatic leadership’ are less clear. For me, the definition of charisma is ‘an authentic power that captivates hearts and minds’ It would follow then, that an uncharismatic leader would be ‘not authentic’ and ‘not captivating’, either logically or emotionally – certainly not somebody who I would feel inspired about working ,or voting for!
 
Our Authentic Charisma is built upon the degree to which we have developed five key internal attributes. Taken to the ‘nth’ degree then, truly spectacularly uncharismatic leadership behaviour would require an individual to, not only, be less than authentic or captivating, but they would also ideally need to be out of balance in all, or most, of the following 5 pillars of charisma:
 
  • Self Esteem
  • Sensory Awareness
  • Driving Force
  • Compelling Vision
  • Balanced Energy
Any imbalance in these internal attributes, causing them to be either under, or over- developed, might show themselves in any of the following behavioural clues, all of which will negatively impact upon our individual ability to ‘captivate hearts and minds’.

Self Esteem issues: Defensive, hypersensitive, boastful, arrogant, craving constant positive feedback, self-critical, indecisive, excessive will to please, perfectionism, guilt, pessimism, envy.

Sensory Awareness Issues: Contained, reserved, distant, aloof, uncommunicative, inconsiderate, thoughtless, unaware /oblivious of the impact of their words or actions, doesn’t admit mistakes, biased, closed, seeks out evidence to support own opinions and beliefs, inappropriate, judgemental, sees threats not opportunities, lacks empathy

Driving Force Issues: Ineffectual, indecisive, compliant, trying to please everybody, highly risk or change averse, looks for reasons why actions or plans won’t work… or bullying, high driver, impatient, intolerant, inflexible, task focus at expense of relationships.
 
Vision Issues: Overly detailed, logical appeal lacking pathos, Inability to paint pictures of a better place, or visualise what that better place looks and feels like, or too ‘Big Picture,’, dreamer, idealistic views with no real plans of how they can be achieved.
 
Energy issues: Low energy, complainer, victim /poor me, low resilience, poor health, demotivated and demotivating, or wired, anxious, snappy, workaholic, compulsive completer-finisher. Inconsistent ,unpredictable, emotional rollercoaster.
 
Each and every one of us has the potential to be both charismatic and uncharismatic at times. Because we recognise and understand that same inconsistency in others, charisma can be really hard to define. Sometimes when we can’t quite put our finger on what a thing is, it can be much easier to identify what it is that it will, and won’t do.
 
Charismatic Leadership will be effective, both in the short and long term.
 
Uncharismatic Leadership will be most effective in the short term (as anybody who has ever needed to get a teenage son or daughter out of the house to a tight deadline will testify), but it won’t captivate hearts and minds. It won’t create bonds and trust and loyalty, and it won’t be effective, or cost effective, in the long term.
 
So, in terms of your own organisation; which side of the charismatic camp are you falling into? Do you have the courage to develop your own charismatic potential or are you taking the ‘safe’ option into the grey zone?
 
"How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are making them feel good about you."
 

2 Responses

  1. charisma – useful all the time?

    You seem to imply that there are only two choices – charismatic, or not. I’m not sure this is the case.  

    I’m sure that in the non charismatic examples that you give, most people would be in the middle – so somewhere between "Ineffectual, indecisive", and "high driver, impatient".  So if they’re NOT "non-charismatic" are they therefore charismatic? And if that’s not the case, are they something else? which would seem to indicate to me that there’s more than this option available.

    And what happens if you sadly don’t have all these qualities?  If people force themselves to be communicative, for example, are they still being authentic? Also, charisma is dependent a great deal on the views of followers – so it is context dependent – Hitler inspired many with his vision, but it repels most people now.

     

     

     

     

    — Karen Drury

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