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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