There is no shortage of great leadership examples: Some of them charismatic and inspiring, others not so much. In fact, some of the best leaders are demanding, pace-setters who manage to pull the best out of the people around them. Charisma is nice tool when used to inspire teams and communicate vision, but is charisma really necessary for great leadership?
While many would agree that charisma is a necessary quality for speakers, performers and other select public figures, it can actually become a detriment for someone leading an organisation or team. Charisma is an ego-driven quality that, left untempered, can become addictive to both the leader and the organisation. Despite the external benefits of charismatic leadership, internally, one of the big challenges for leaders is knowing when to use it, and when to set it aside so others can shine.
And it can be a tough balance. When leaders rely too heavily on charisma, their teams start to see the leader as responsible for the success of the organisation. Rather than drawing on diverse viewpoints from within the organisation, the leader — intentionally or unintentionally — dominates conversations about strategy, performance, and problem solving. The unfortunate result is that the leader loses sight of the big picture and begins making decisions with a more and more myopic view of the organisation.
In this way charisma also stifles the growth and development of others and the organisation itself. It’s hard for new leaders to grow in the shadow of overbearing, charismatic leadership. Instead of empowering and developing others, charisma draws attention to itself for its own sake.
None of this is to say that charismatic leadership has no appropriate time or place. When used carefully, charisma can be a great tool for reinforcing organisational culture, implementing change management initiatives and cultivating alignment within an organisation. However, when wielded carelessly, the influence of charisma can undermine culture, engagement and performance.
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