The Dark Side of Charismatic Leadership

Chief Executive looks at the dark side of charismatic leadership.

As the Greeks said, the poison is in the dose. If by "charisma" we mean some combination of intangibles that can inspire and elevate it is to be welcomed. Phil Rosenzweig, a professor at IMD, the International Institute for Management Development and author of "The Halo Effect…and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers," is somewhat mistrustful of the concept. "Charisma," he says, is what we say about leaders of successful companies, and thus is often in the eye of the beholder, and shaped by what we know about company performance. To have any validity as a concept, it has to be measured objectively, and independently of performance–which is possible, but usually not the case. Show me any successful company, and I can probably argue that its leader is charismatic, at least by some definition.

"My advice for leaders would be to develop two things: skills of strategic judgment and of effective interpersonal communication. If the latter is seen by some to involve "charisma," so be it. But I would urge leaders not to try to be something that they are not. There are many ways to be effective in leading people in organizations."

I think that last point nails the biggest problem with leadership. People are looking for some panacea – for ways to be something they are not. Leaders should instead build on the skills that they do have.

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  • M.N Dogar

    I am from sweden and student of MBA

  • I concur with your sentiments for business managers not to follow leadership models that are contrary to their core personality and temperament. Charisma is not required for a leader to be successful within an organization. A charismatic personality is a combination of a few factors including: Personality, disposition, environment and a keen insight into human nature. Typically, leaders may adopt different traits among the pantheon of leadership models to become more effective. While this hybrid approach may take on a “chameleon-like” affectation, I surmise that a leader’s core leadership style will be closely aligned with his personality, personal constitution and worldview. Consequently, a charismatic leader might demonstrate mannerisms one might characterize as, “Machiavellian.” In this worldview, the charismatic leader is amoral and applies specific strategies and tactics to situations based on needs–his and the situation. On the other hand, a more traditional leader might find such thought processes “immoral” and “anti-civilization.” Nevertheless, the traditional leader would not necessarily reject the ability to affect an audience with awe-inspiring oratory characterized by charismatic leaders. Leadership models are malleable, but personality proclivities appear to be consistent.

    The take away is to remain authentic to your natural leadership style, but “borrow” the traits that enhance your style for greater, long-term success.

    Edward Brown
    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute