Charismatic speaker arouses a crowd

Charismatic Leadership: A Key Leadership Style For Transformational Leaders

For leaders, charisma is an important element to master. Not only is it an important leadership style, but it is one key element of great transformational leadership. But what is charisma? And how do you become more charismatic? Find out.

Written by Murray Johannsen. Feel free to connect via LinkedIn or directly from this website.

Learn Charisma — A Transformational Leadership Style

Alex Law: “I mean, my first impression, and they’re rarely wrong, is that you have none of the qualities that we normally seek in a prospective flatmate. I’m talking here about things like presence, charisma, style, and charm, and I don’t think we’re asking too much, I don’t think we’re being unreasonable.” — Shallow Grave, Movie (1994)

“Charisma is a fancy name given to the knack of other’s giving you their full attention.” — Robert Brault

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Why Develop Charisma?

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description of hard-core pornography; perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” — Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter

While charisma is extremely powerful, it is difficult to learn and hard to define as the following quotes illustrate.

“Charisma is a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s invisible energy with visible effects.” — Marianne Williamson

“You have got charisma! Becca!: What’s that? It’s a special quality of leadership that captures the popular imagination and inspires allegiance and devotion.” — Movie: Son in Law (1993)

Charismatic Characteristics According To House

En agitator (An agitator), oil painting by Erik Henningsen 1899. Charisma is an important leadership style, But it’s hard to understand since almost everyone we meet is a bland personality, people we shortly forget. But the charismatic leader is different —they leave a lasting impact.

House (1976) came up with a theory of how leaders project charisma. There are six of these important characteristics.

“Pont de Bir-Hakeim and view on the 16th Arrondissement of Paris 140124 1” by DXR – Own work. One might say, charismatic leadership is like a bridge that allows leaders to move people from where they are, to where the charismatic leader thinks they should be.

1. They Can Impression Manage

Impression management is easy for many bosses since they surround themselves with public relations experts and press agents, individuals skilled at publicity and spin. But charismatic individuals need no such intermediaries.

2. Appeal To Hidden Aspiration and Fears

It is, unfortunately, a fact of life that those with charisma can arouse either negative emotions or positive ones. 

It takes little skill to make people afraid, for fear is one of the most basic emotions. For example, a leader can use a terrorist incident to rally people to action.

But it’s much harder to create a positive emotional appeal, but it can be done. For example, you can create hope, as was done in the 2008 presidential campaign by Barrack Obama.

The image was a widely distributed version of Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster, featuring the word “hope.” Other versions used the words “change” and “progress.” Image by: Shepard Fairey3. When You Have Charisma, You Can Set High Expectations

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy, former American President

Charismatic individuals are also good at defining expectations. 

For example, Pepsi CEO Donald Kendall would never miss a chance to hoist a Pepsi in public, and he expects his employees to behave the same way. — Louis,  (1981), page 76.

4. Engage in Role Modeling

In some respects, those with charisma are surrounded by people who act like children; complex children, but still children. If you are charismatic, people will look at your behavior to determine what’s acceptable. They hang on every word. They watch every action. They look into your eyes for hints on how your thoughts will go and they watch your face to read intentions.

5. Seek to Arouse Motivation

Charismatic leaders manipulate peoples’ motivations. An example of this was Adolf Hitler, who was known for using rallies to motivate followers.

6. Be a Persuasive Speaker

I am firmly convinced that the art of persuasive speaking is mostly dead. It dies when students learn how to imitate their boring professors. You know the ones who can even put an insomniac to sleep. However, if one has this gift (a learned gift of course) one can accomplish a great deal.

In the 1970’s John Debutt, a former CEO of AT&T snapped the company out of its slump, and he did it largely on the strength of his considerable charisma. He and tow other top executives went on the grand tour of the U.S., giving pep talks to thousands of Bell System managers. “We talked to people at mass meetings to give them confidence,” he recalled, “and also to let them know what this new management team looked like, and what we sounded like.” We let them ask anything they wanted to ask, and we’d answer them. Within a few years the Bell System had not only overcome its service problems, but had surpassed all previous records for trouble free service. Louis (1981), page 96-7.

7. Project Self-confidence

“I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt.”  — Murray Johannsen

The leadership experts cannot seem to agree on what traits are associated with leadership. However, one trait making it into most lists is self-confidence.

While House has seven areas to focus on, Baldoni in an article called Becoming a Charismatic Leader in the Harvard Business Review suggests it just takes three traits and skills:

  • Know Thyself
  • Public Speaking, and 
  • Humility.

Ah, if it were only so easy.

“Charisma is a fancy name given to the knack of other’s giving you their full attention.” — Robert Brault

On Site Resources

A Charismatic Leadership Reading List

Bruce J. Avolio, Tracy C. Gibbons (1988) Developing Transformational Leaders: A Life Span Approach, in Charismatic Leadership: The Elusive Factor in Organizational Effectiveness by Jay A. Conger, Rabindra N. Kanuggo and Associates 
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Louis, Arthur (1981). The Tycoons. New York: Simon and Shuster.

House, R. J. (1976). “A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership.” In J. G. Hunt and L. L. Larson. (beds.), Leadership: The Cutting Edge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois.

Business Insider: Becoming Your Most Charismatic Self. As the article says, “Some people may be born with charisma, but it turns out managers can train themselves to become more compelling leaders.”

Charismatic Leadership: The Good, Bad, and Best Practices. This is a great document that covers several techniques and some good theories.

A Charismatic Leadership Guide. This style can be beneficial for various types of roles, especially if you want to run your own business. Nice mix of theory and practice.

Do You Want To Be a Charismatic Leader? If you want to be a great leader charisma is an important technique to master. You might have heard that charisma cannot be developed. That is not true. Business mentor Simon Reynolds has written a short article presenting key tips on how to be more charismatic. Do you want to learn how?

Charisma in MNCs: Is it Needed? After all, you have the authority given to you by the position and that is more than enough to manage the status quo. According to Jim Collins, what you need at the top is an architect, not a charismatic leader.

Charisma in MNCs: What About the Bottomline? Do charismatic CEOs outperform their bland managerial counterparts? May by not, especially if you are judging them from a narrow perspective of economic profit and loss.  Check out this article in the Sloan Management Review

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