Charisma in leadership is a way of describing a person who seemingly has no difficulty drawing people to him or her. This type of charismatic leadership is effective – in the right situations. Historically, leaders such as Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy are seen as charismatic, but so are Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein. This simply means that charismatic leaders emerge in various situations and can use their ability for advancement – or not. First, let’s look at what makes a leader charismatic.
As we’ve said, charismatic leaders seem to have a natural flair for inciting emotion and enticing people to follow them. These leaders are the “work the room” types of leaders, the ones who can spend hours in a crowd focusing more on the people they are talking to than on themselves. One of the biggest characteristics of charismatic leadership is the ability to take larger ideas and boil them down to simple ones, such as, “I have a dream”. These charismatic leaders may be seen as greater than average risk takers who fight the status quo and lead the charge to innovate.
On the other hand, co-called non-charismatic leaders can be seen as someone with high technical knowledge leading a field by example. Or possibly the non-charismatic leader is seen as a nurturer, protector, or wise sage. Is one type of leadership more effective than the other? Again, it depends on the situation. For example, political and religious leaders are often the most charismatic – after all, their success depends on how many people follow them.
But think about more conservative organizations, such as a bank or investment house – is this a place where we would prefer a completely charismatic leader, or a more quiet, leading by example type person? The danger in discussing these leadership styles is that we all tend to compare ourselves to the standards. There’s no need to try to make yourself into a charismatic leader if it’s not the most natural style for you. On the other hand, if you lead with charisma, don’t try to tone it down. So is it true that not all leaders are charismatic? Absolutely. But all leaders share some of the same traits – they simply demonstrate those traits in different ways.
First, all leaders share a vision. Whether you are charismatic or not, your leadership is established by creating a vision that the organization will follow. Visionary leadership is neither charismatic nor non-charismatic – it’s just plain leadership. All leaders engender trust, whether it’s through charged public speaking and personal magnetism or through steady, sound vision and goals. If you have the trust of your organization, your leadership will be successful.
Another characteristic that all leaders share is the ability to motivate – and maintain motivation. Again, motivation can come from personal magnetism and the ability to incite emotion and inspiration, or it can come from a quiet culture of recognition and reward. Leaders also lead with courage and honesty – without these traits, your leadership won’t amount to much. Finally, leaders share the need for innovation – and the ability to surround themselves with innovators.
Many of us may want to increase our charisma – and there are few things you can do to get there. But remember that too much charisma can lead to the “cult of personality”, where it seems that leadership is all talk and no show. Whatever you do, balance your charisma based on your individual personality, the organization, and how the organization responds to charisma.
Some organizations are inherently distrustful of a high level of charisma, or they may have the tendency to dismiss charismatic leadership as talk. So be careful about how you approach it – and remember that not all of us need the charisma of Martin Luther King or Billy Graham. So what can you do to work on charisma?
First, know thyself. Extreme self-knowledge and self-awareness lead to a high level of confidence – not overconfidence, but an understanding of who you are and what your contribution will be. Another way to increase charisma is to actively practice public speaking. If you’re an organizational leader, you probably do have to speak in public on a consistent basis. Ask for feedback.
Hire a coach or consultant to help you increase your magnetism through public speaking. As we’ve seen, most charismatic leaders are excellent public speakers who feel and look comfortable in front of small and large audiences. Along with public speaking comes the ability to “work the room” as we discussed earlier. Practice extemporaneous speaking along with public speaking. You’ll always be able to get someone talking and thus take the time to focus on them.
But always remember to back up your words with consistent action. Finally, be humble. Some of history’s successful charismatic leaders have shared a sense of humility – and the sense that they did not get where they were alone. These three practices can help you improve your personal charisma.
Remember that not all leaders are charismatic. You must lead in the style that is most compatible with your personality – and the personality of your organization. Don’t try to be someone you’re not – and keep in mind that all leadership has the same goal: to get people to follow you with motivation and inspiration. If you’re able to do that in your particular situation without a high level of charisma, then so be it. With or without a high level of charisma, be sure that you exhibit the common traits of leadership and your style will be successful.
By Frank Salisbury