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Charismatic leadership is a leadership style that combines charm, interpersonal connection, and persuasive communication to motivate others. Charismatic leaders can motivate and inspire their team towards a greater goal by tapping into their people’s emotions, creating a sense of trust, passion, and purpose greater than themselves.
Charismatic leadership differentiates from other leadership styles, like laissez faire or autocratic, by focusing more on the interpersonal relationship and how the leader interacts with the people whom they lead. Many leaders are in some sense charismatic--people want to follow the leader as a person, in one way or another, not just for the business goal they represent. However, charismatic leadership is a style of leadership that relies on multiple attributes of charisma to elicit the desired behaviors, shape growth in employees and the company, and produce specific outcomes.
As the business world goes through significant and ongoing changes, leadership all across the organization is more important. Employees are seeking jobs where they feel valued, where they feel impassioned, and where they feel that their hard work and skills are recognized. Companies dream of these employees. However, poor leadership and poor management is a leading reason why employees leave companies.
Charismatic leadership can help to attract and, in the best cases, retain these amazing employees. A charismatic leader can make a great first impression on prospective hires with the sheer force of passion and vision they exude.
Charismatic leaders tend to be highly attuned to other’s strengths and weaknesses and understand what each needs.They can value the employee’s work and inspire them to work harder, harness the employee’s passion and make use of it, and recognize the specific skills and abilities of each of their employees. This can create a fantastic working environment where employees will want to stay on board and help the company grow.
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Charismatic leaders can be a resounding force of vision, energy, and influence for their employees. However, this leadership style isn’t without fault. If the characteristics of charisma are not paired with integrity and good intent, or if they are used poorly or at the wrong times, charismatic leadership can create issues.
The pros and cons of a charismatic leadership style:
- Creates good rapport with everyone and it’s focused on developing relationships
- Influences good group dynamics by working as a team
- Retains command without being overbearing
- Helps build healthy relationships with employees without being too familiar
- Inspires growth and personal advancement in employees to work harder and smarter
- Helps retain employees by creating a positive working environment
- Manages stress and anxiety for both leaders and employees
- Turns skeptics off -- artificial charisma can be viewed as disingenuous
- Conflicts with need for some leaders to act independently and hand orders down the chain
- Risks being too self-focused as the leader becomes involved with their own charisma rather than the impact for their employees
- Risks degradation of respect from employees when applied improperly instead of garnering respect
- Creates too much reliance on leaders from employees and teams always seeking help and advice
- Creates power imbalance that can discourage productive challenging of leader’s views and plans--can lead to “yes” men
- Charismatic leaders can be hard to replace or accept replacement
- Can’t be forced--charisma is part art, part inborn
Many of these cons can be mitigated or guarded against, but they are important to be aware of.
Charismatic leadership is made up of a combination of characteristics, many of them work together and can be implemented at different times and periods for better use.
Here are 8 charismatic leadership characteristics to consider:
- Communication: A charismatic leader can clearly communicate job duties and goals to their team and everyone around them. They speak openly, in a professional way, and convey their exact thoughts without speaking too little or too much. They also allow open communication between everyone, allowing their employees to speak freely without fear of repercussion.
- Empathy: By allowing their employees to speak openly, a charismatic leader must also make good use of empathy and compassion. They are open to their employee’s concerns and passions, willing to understand their feelings. Because of this, they become well-liked among their employees as a great listener and confidant.
- Confidence: The idea of charisma often brings along the idea of confidence. Strong confidence in the business world has many aspects. Proper posture and personal appearance create an image of confidence. A leader who takes on challenges, such as a large project, with strong reassurance that they and their team can finish it shows confidence. When issues arise or problems are found, a charismatic leader can confidently take control, issue orders, and clearly communicate their wishes and the outcome they seek. The main take away for confidence is to look and act as if no matter what someone goes through, everything will result in a good outcome.
- Humility: A charismatic leader understands that they aren’t perfect. Arrogance is one of the worst traits of leadership. Instead, a leader should be willing to accept their mistakes and take on mistakes from their team as their own. They understand they can improve and strive to do so for the sake of their team. They are also aware they are a part of the team; if a small job needs to be completed and they have time to tackle it, instead of asking someone to do it for them, they accomplish the job themselves. Humility shows their employees that their leader is human, yet their other traits are what gave them command.
- Self-awareness: Regardless of how amazing a leader can be, they must also be aware of themselves and how others react to them. Many eccentric leaders don’t understand the stress they put on their employees, but a charismatic leader focuses on understanding themselves and their roles within their team.
- Maturity: A charismatic leader is someone who was put in their position due to their maturity. They can develop and drive a team towards the business’s goal due to their expertise and experience. They can accomplish this with a wise mindset when approaching everything they do. They are the leader, the parental figure who directs and commands.
- Optimism: A leader should be optimistic, the “glass half full” type of person. If an issue does come around, they can reassure their employees that the issue can be corrected. They can build a positive attitude for everyone around them by always looking on the brighter side.
- Passion: A charismatic leader should always show a great deal of passion in everything they do. They show great enthusiasm for their work, genuinely. This passion should also bleed into other employees through clear communication and application.
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Autocratic Leadership versus Charismatic Leadership
Autocratic leaders are a forceful leadership style, where they command others to follow and expect their commands to be followed to the letter. This can work well in some fields, such as high-level leadership roles where a single person sends commands down the line, or similar to military roles.
Charismatic leadership focuses on appealing to employees and teams instead of being a commanding presence. Leaders are more focused on appealing, empathizing, and generating passion with confidence.
Democratic Leadership versus Charismatic Leadership
Democratic leadership follows the political nature of its terminology: It’s driven by rationality and goals. Democratic leaders are focused on developing the group as a whole and act as the leader who the group follows.
Charismatic leadership appeals more to the emotional wellbeing and personal feelings of their team. They are more willing to change and act towards what their employees feel, rather than turn a blind eye to the overall picture.
Laissez Faire Leadership versus Charismatic Leadership
Laissez Faire leadership has its place where the leader can allow the team to work autonomously without much input. The team has more power in decision making and their goals, but this can leave them to rely on their own passion and drive for their work.
Charismatic leadership does retain much of the employee’s thoughts on the work they are performing but takes a more active role in influencing and developing the group efforts.
Charismatic and Transformational leadership offer very similar characteristics and attributes but differ in a few areas.
- Both leadership styles are charismatic and use personality to influence others around them.
- They inspire growth and development within their team.
- They both offer clear, strong communication between their team and everyone around them.
- They both appeal to their employees on a professional level.
- Transformational leaders are vision focused, as they are goal oriented and focus on the outcome more.
- Transformational leaders drive the team towards challenges that would improve development and growth within the team.
- Transformational leaders are role-models and focus on being the center of the team’s drive for success while trying to keep some distance from their team.
- Transformational leaders are focused on being impervious and strong in the face of adversity, rather than appealing to emotions as much as charismatic leaders do.
Any leader can adopt and develop some of the characteristics of a charismatic leader in order to be better at influence, however, the power of a charismatic leader often comes from the full interplay of the characteristics with their personality. Not everyone can be a charismatic leader.
If someone wasn’t born with a charismatic personality, it’s still wholly worthwhile to invest time to develop some charisma in their skills. At the same time, these people likely hold a wealth of knowledge and experience and the ability to be a wise leader--they just need to find a leadership style better suited to their personality that they can wield effectively for their organization.
Charismatic leaders are often especially effective in times of uncertainty and existential threat. Perhaps because this leadership style relies on being attuned to the emotions and needs of the people being led, the examples of famous charismatic leaders tend to be people who lead through crises.
5 charismatic leaders from history:
- Martin Luther King, Jr: MLK empowered his people with hope through conveying his feelings clearly in a storytelling-like language that resonated deeply in the hearts of millions of his time, and millions from his time. He never used force or violence, but acted against it with peace and a focus on prosperity.
- Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi, much like MLK, focused on inspiring others to do what was good. He encouraged truth and nonviolence in the face of opposition. He also didn’t command others to follow him, only allowing those who wanted to follow his actions to accompany him as he was so committed he would have performed them alone.
- Winston Churchill: The outspoken UK Prime Minister during WW2 was very polarizing because he spoke openly, unlike most politicians at the time. This act of confidence and personal touch made him greatly charismatic to a nation that was beaten, but not down, in a time of strife and trouble.
- Margaret Thatcher: The first female UK Prime Minister was well-loved during her duty and after. She was strong and confident for a woman of her time. She was also an open communicator and willing to bend to outside points of view and show humility when needed.
- Mother Teresa: Mother Teresa was generous with her charity, offered courage in the face of opposition, and was entirely selfless, fully committed to giving everything she had to help people in need. Others followed her in her work despite difficult conditions and daily devastation.
- Share your vision and enthusiasm. Charisma is exciting to those around the leader.
- Speak to your team often. Allow a period of open communication, and from the beginning try to listen well. Oftentimes it’s better to simply listen, empathize, and just understand what they’re saying. Establishing listening early on can help ensure that team members continue to speak freely to you about concerns despite the force of your passion.
- When you communicate about job duties or goals, try to speak clearly and with a defined plan, but you can leave room and ask for input from others. It’s good to give enough of a sign that you can direct towards the goal, but perhaps your way isn’t as perfect as you may want it to be.
- Be willing to do small jobs, even if it’s helping your team with small tasks when they are busy. This shows great humility and willingness to support your team when you can.
- Try to keep your mind focused on the “glass half full” by redirecting failures and negative talk with a positive vibe. This shows great confidence in your goals and your team.
- Motivate your team by showing enthusiasm, support, and good cheer when you can. Because they are inspired by you as a leader and visionary, your enthusiasm can be a great reward for your employees when they achieve something or the team needs to tackle a challenge.
Charismatic leadership can be one of the best leadership styles to motivate employees to achieve greater goals, energize them through everything they do, and create a sense of meaning to retain valuable employees. No matter who is leading a team, any of these techniques to generate more charisma can yield benefits.