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March 23, 2021


What Is Charismatic Leadership?

Charismatic leader shaking hands in board room

Have you ever worked with someone who knows how to encourage you to make the impossible totally possible? Maybe they seem attuned to what it takes to get the best work out of you, or they’re always ready to share exactly the right thing to make you feel like you can do anything. This highly effective approach to management has a name: charismatic leadership.

As you find yourself moving forward in your career and stepping into management or leadership roles, it helps to choose an approach that meshes with your personality while supporting the company you work for. But it can be difficult to choose and refine a leadership style if you’re unfamiliar with the options that are available to you. By utilizing the knowledge gained from attaining a business degree or by taking online courses, business leaders like you can understand the psychology behind managing teams and utilizing the principles and characteristics of leadership to help refine your charismatic management style.

What Are Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders?

Charismatic management or leadership is a form of professional guidance or management built on a foundation of strong communication skills, persuasiveness, and maybe even a little bit of charm to help them get the most out of everyone that works for them. They tend to be passionate, have charisma (hence the charismatic title), and have strong convictions with a deep connection to the work that they’re doing—which, in turn, inspires the same conviction in others. Because of a charismatic leader’s intense commitment to their work, they tend to evoke strong emotions from their followers and teams. This encourages devotion, action, and strong problem-solving skills.

Charismatic management and leadership style is similar to transformational leadership. In transformational leadership, managers are known for using inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation to empower their followers in doing their best work. But where the two approaches differ is in how charismatic leaders focus on working within the status quo to make it better, as opposed to creating an entirely new path.

Some of the skills, traits, and actions that may define a good leader that utilizes charisma would include:

  • Forward-thinking goal setting: Because these great leaders are able to see the bigger picture, charismatic leaders excel at setting project milestones well into the future to help keep teams motivated and encourage continued advancements.
  • Articulation: Being well spoken, a strong communicator, and capable of detailing company plans in an engaging way ensures followers are on board at every level of production. This trait is key for charismatic leaders.
  • Ability to tap into people’s emotions: Encouragement and inspiration are one thing, but the trait of emotionally connecting followers to a cause with your charisma can create a stronger sense of devotion to the work.
  • Openness to taking risks: As much as leaders with charisma work within the status quo, they’re still willing to explore unique opportunities or approaches that could result in big gains.
  • Clear vision: Knowing the desired outcome of a project, and the pathway to getting there, gives followers a stronger sense of support as they work.
  • Utilization of unconventional behavior: Maybe they employ off-the-wall team-building exercises, maybe they encourage a hybrid office/remote approach to work, or maybe they try every bananas idea an employee comes up with. Leaders with charisma aren’t afraid to try everything to get results.
  • Grace under pressure: Leaders with charisma can often find themselves in high-pressure situations that can challenge them to keep everyone committed and motivated, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
  • Sensitivity to their environment and the needs of the team: Empathy is another important quality that can help charismatic leaders navigate sensitive situations and intensive production schedules.
  • Strong engagement skills: From upper management to lower-tier employees, charismatic leaders know how to connect with everyone at every level of the professional totem pole.

History of Charismatic Leadership

The theory of charismatic leadership can be traced back to a 1922 study conducted by German sociologist Max Weber. Weber looked at why people follow authority in conjunction with political obligation, deducing that people tend to follow a leader because they see their leadership and power to be good and just, allowing the perception that these leaders are doing the right thing.

To Weber, charisma was more about appearances than action, and driven more by sociology or politics. He cited three key components that make up a charismatic leader: the psychological dimension, which encompasses their inner qualities; the social aspect, driven by the external sources that shape the leader; and the relational dimension, relating to the relationship between the leader and their subordinate. Later, in his 1958 book "The Three Types of Legitimate Rule," Weber evolved his theory to discuss how charismatic leaders can build strong emotional relationships with employees, and how they can lose their legitimacy when support is withdrawn.

Expanding on Weber’s theories, Robert J. House published the paper “A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership,” which focused more on the concept from a psychological standpoint. House felt that charismatic leaders had personal and behavioral characteristics that encouraged people to follow them. Because charismatic leaders exhibited vision, determination, and the self-confidence to communicate both, followers found themselves encouraged and inspired by such leaders, rather than granting their following out of fear. Some notable charismatic leaders include civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Apple founder Steve Jobs, and President Barack Obama.

Employee giving presentation to group

Charismatic Leadership vs Other Styles of Leadership

Every form of leadership relies on the leader to have a certain type of personality that inspires employees and encourages productivity, but charismatic leaders take that approach to the next level. Yes, they have personality—but they also have a certain kind of charm and the ability to connect with people on multiple levels. This helps them drive company initiatives while motivating and encouraging employees.

Like the visionary leadership approach, charismatic leadership relies on having a clear vision of a project or initiative. Where they differ is that charismatic leaders employ their open-ended approach in a more traditional status quo environment. Charismatic leaders are also adaptable like situational leaders, but the scope of a charismatic leader tends to be more exploratory and less rigid than the traditional business approach.

Adaptive leaders and charismatic leaders share a visionary approach to handling challenges and relying on emotional intelligence to connect with employees. But charismatic leadership deviates from adaptive by thriving on a certain amount of structure and a cohesive company approach. And while charismatic leadership is similar to effective leadership in its reliance on self-confidence and leading through example, effective leadership tends to be used in a lower-pressure environment or in smaller groups of people, while charismatic leadership is employed on a larger scale.

What Are the Benefits of Charismatic Leadership?

Charismatic leadership can be a highly effective approach to optimize and motivate teams, as these leaders often operate on the courage of their convictions and stand up for what they believe in. Some of the benefits of charismatic leadership include:

  • Inspired connection with team members or employees
  • The focused commitment to a company or organization’s project or mission
  • Strong motivating factors that produce results
  • An emphasis on collaboration and team-oriented support to meet the needs of a project or mission
  • Positive change is encouraged, which in turn inspires forward movement
  • Employees and team members are valued for their input and supported in their goals
  • Egos are left at the door in service of the greatest good
  • Mistakes are addressed and approached as learning opportunities

What Are the Disadvantages of Charismatic Leadership?

Of course, there’s a flipside to the positives of charismatic leadership. For all the benefits it imparts, it can also have some downsides that can derail a company or project or create internal turmoil. Some of the disadvantages of charismatic leadership include:

  • Charismatic leaders with a less self-assured foundation can prioritize their own focus instead of that of the company or organization
  • Outsiders can see this approach as disingenuous and question the intentions behind products or actions
  • Charismatic leaders may create the illusion that nobody can replace them, which can create issues for companies that may need to replace a leader for multiple reasons
  • An inability to course-correct or see the error of their ways may create a situation where the leader can inadvertently sabotage an initiative
  • Some charismatic leaders have been known to believe their own hype to the point that they consider themselves invincible, leading them to commit violations or crimes
  • Similarly, some leaders may decide they don’t need to listen to anyone else, particularly those they lead

How to Practice Charismatic Leadership

The best way to avoid the negatives and accentuate the positives of charismatic leadership is to embrace the core aspects of this approach. When you allow these aspects to guide you, you’re less likely to veer off the path and more capable of being an effective leader. To be an effective charismatic leader, make sure you display:

  • Vulnerability and humility: Be willing to own up to your mistakes and learn from them, admit the things you’re unable to do and delegate accordingly, and let your failures be opportunities for growth and improvement.

  • Listening skills: Don’t just wait to speak! Make sure you really listen to your team, allow them to be heard, and work with them to address their concerns.

  • Transparency: Be open and honest about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

  • Determination: This quality is particularly important in times of challenge, as your team will look to you for encouragement and how they should react in stressful situations.

  • Communication skills: Go beyond being charming and actually connect with people! Learn more about them and how you can support their goals, too.

  • Compassion: Remember that at the end of the day you’re human, and you’re working with fellow humans who also have wants, needs, weaknesses, and complications. Do what you can to help your employees when they need it.

  • Maturity: Ditch the high school mentality and don’t allow yourself to get wrapped up in psychological warfare that’s designed to create chaos for you and your team.

  • Vision: See the endgame for your project, company, or organization, let your team in on the plan, and work with them to make it to the finish line together.

  • Self-monitoring and self-improvement: Continue working on yourself through therapy, education, leadership exercises, and more so that you’re able to evolve with your team and the collective vision you’re working towards.

  • Confidence: Find and connect to your inner strength and sense of self and let both inspire your team to great heights.

  • Creativity: Don’t employ the same old, same old! Let your imagination run wild and allow it to inform new ways to inspire your team and bring your vision to fruition.

With a little charisma, a strong sense of vision, and a lot of heart, charismatic leadership could help you create a professional path to greatness.

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