What happens when leaders have too much charisma?

charismaWhen a leader with charisma becomes so strong and confident that they dominate their teams to the extent that others simply never question their decisions, you’d better hope that that leader is always right and is leading you in the right direction. Sadly, the opposite is usually true. Leaders who cut themselves off from bad news or challenge, quickly lose sight of the real drivers of success, or the drivers of failure, and a slow and tortured decline usually ensues. They even become blind to the dangers facing them, person-ally, because of excessive confidence.

Diverse views, born of genuine diversity in the team, are key to agility and innovation, which are more critical in an age of rapid change. If a charismatic leader uses their charisma in the wrong way, they might encourage team members to think that disagreement is disloyalty. Leaders who use charisma in the right way will encourage team members to speak up, in the knowledge that this serves two useful purposes. First, it is most likely the best way to improve outcomes for the team. Second, it will help people to feel valued and keep their levels of motivation high.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Blind followers who are loyal to their charismatic leader will almost certainly lead to poor decision-making[/perfectpullquote]

Blind followers who are loyal to their charismatic leader will almost certainly lead to poor decision-making, and even allow for unethical behaviour by the leader. Too much charisma can dilute good judgement, because it can be based on emotional manipulation, which disallows more rational points of view, or causes people to keep quiet when they know they should be speaking up.

Glib charm can make people think that some leaders are charismatic, and this can hide their worst tendencies. Being highly manipulative, or hugely egocentric, might not sound like terrible sins, but they are when put to the wrong purpose. Charismatic leaders who are well-balanced can inspire us to work together for a common cause, they can create a great sense of team among high-performing individuals, and they can enable huge levels of agility and creativity by fostering trust and dialogue.

At their worst, charismatic leaders – bereft of humility – may develop tunnel vision and cut themselves off from what matters most in their organization. They will be unwilling to learn from their mistakes and become unresponsive to team members or other stakeholders. There’s always a danger that charismatic leaders who lack ethics could be committing all kinds of violations. Team members may turn a blind eye and fail to report transgressions.

Even when things are going well, if a charismatic manager leaves, this can be hugely disruptive to the team. Overdependence on a leader can inhibit the development of a competent successor. Charisma alone is not enough Charisma without ethics can lead us to dangerous and dark places, at worst, and charisma without the other essential skills of management can lead to us being seen as inefficient as managers, with good cause.

The dark side of charisma is about a lack of balance, both in the skills of charisma, and in a lack of other essential management skills. Most of these skills are essential soft skills, and, most organizations are sadly doing too little to help us develop those skills. It is up to us as individuals to take the initiative and educate ourselves.


Charisma alone is not enough

Of course, charisma alone is not enough to be a good leader. There are plenty of other skills that you need in management and leadership to complement the skills of charisma. If you can improve your charismatic presence, you will be far more likely to motivate others and encourage high levels of discretionary effort from them. This, of course, is one of the primary tasks of a manager – to achieve critical goals through the efforts of others.

There are people who are appropriately charismatic, but who lack the ability to problem-solve, or develop a strategy, or don’t know enough about the technical aspects of the job that their team is required to do, and lacking these skills may negatively impact on their effectiveness as a leader. However, with the right charismatic skills, such a leader would still be able to draw on the knowledge and expertise of others to cover those shortfalls.

Image: from Worship of the Golden Calf by Frans II Francken, Public Domain