“Always work hard and have fun in what you do because I think that’s when you’re more successful. You have to choose to do it.” -Simone Biles
Think about the most inspirational speaker you’ve ever heard. How did they make you feel? What do you think sets them apart from other leadership styles or speakers that you’ve listened to throughout your life?
Many of the most powerful and inspirational leaders throughout history have been charismatic leaders.
What is charismatic leadership?
It’s a style of leadership that is an extremely powerful way of managing and motivating people when applied properly.
Think of some of the most inspiring and transformational leaders you’ve seen. People like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more. That leadership style has the ability to not only motivate but inspire.
You can really feel their passion, drive, and determination. Charismatic leaders believe in their cause with every fiber of their beings, making it easy for them to pass along that enthusiasm to others.
Definition of charismatic leadership
A charismatic leader is a leader who uses their communication skills, charm, and persuasiveness to influence others.
Charismatic leaders aren’t just charming and persuasive (that’s a narcissist, by the way, which could be a completely different blog topic), but they are genuine and real.
Charismatic leaders are willing to do whatever it takes to help you succeed because they believe in their cause. Something like the civil rights movement didn’t happen because of a dictatorial leadership style.
“Every step in our quest toward justice involves sacrifice.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
What are characteristics of charismatic leaders?
There may be different nuances or personality traits that make a charismatic leader stand apart from others, but there are also certain hallmarks of charismatic leadership that individual leaders possess to make them easily recognizable as a charismatic leader.
- Empathic and approachable
- Engaging and charming
- Verbally eloquent communication skills
- Genuine or authentic
Sure these character traits are also shared with other effective leadership styles, such as transformational leadership.
However, charismatic leaders rely heavily on their personality and charisma to motivate their followers.
Whereas transformational leaders rely on their ability to incite change in individuals and social systems by growing their followers into leaders.
All good leaders share a strong personal vision that they then use to help motivate employees and inspire great loyalty.
What are the pros and cons of charismatic leadership?
As with any leadership style, there are certain strong and desirable aspects to charismatic leadership. However, you also need to be mindful that there are less desirable traits or weaknesses that charismatic leaders could potentially possess.
1. As mentioned above, charismatic leaders motivate and inspire with a genuine passion and drive.
2. A charismatic leadership style allows followers to feel valued, heard, and even better, understood.
3. When implemented properly, charismatic leadership can inspire a tidal wave of positive change in an organization, similar to other effective leadership styles.
4. Charismatic leaders focus on a strong sense of shared vision, which drives self-improvement, and loyalty, much like democratic leadership.
1. If they’re not careful, it’s very easy for charismatic leaders to be viewed as narcissistic, shallow, or inauthentic.
2. Charismatic leaders have a strong self-confidence that can quickly become self-serving if not kept in check.
3. A charismatic leader runs the risk of losing their ability to stay grounded and making the cause all about themselves.
History of charismatic leadership
The term “charismatic leadership” dates back to the early 1900s, when prominent sociologist Max Weber (left) outlined three different kinds of authority models. The most personality-dependent of these was charismatic authority, unlike the other leadership styles, traditional authority, and bureaucratic authority.
Later building on that theory, charismatic leadership was truly formalized as a style by Robert J. House (right) in 1976, when he published the paper “A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership,” Steam for the movement of the charismatic leadership style really started gaining momentum in the corporate world during the early 2000s. Emphasis began to shift from the all-powerful authoritarian leadership styles that were popularized in the 1980s to a more empathic, visionary style.
Employees were no longer being dragged along by the bigger vision of their corporate higher-ups but began being brought into the fold and included in the long-term planning and success of an organization.
Charismatic leadership vs. other styles of leadership
Charismatic leaders are essentially very skilled communicators with the ability to illustrate a clear vision for their followers. On top of that, though, a charismatic leader understands and quickly responds to social cues and the needs of their followers.
Charismatic leadership depends so much on the personality of the leader that it’s definitely not an easy leadership style to fake. Such leaders have to constantly ride that fine line of appearing genuine without appearing self-serving.
Other more traditional styles of leadership rely far less on the leader relating to their followers on such an emotional level. The core of charismatic leadership focuses on emotional connection.
How to apply charismatic leadership
There are core characteristics of charismatic leadership that, when honed and developed properly, can help you be the type of charismatic leader that you truly want to be.
This may be the most important step to becoming an effective leader if you tend toward a charismatic leadership style. It can also be the hardest thing to master.
Because it’s so common for charismatic leaders to appear pompous or inauthentic, practicing being vulnerable around your team is imperative. It shows that you’re real and raw and suffer with many of the same struggles as your people.
It will make you appear less like an untouchable superhero and more like a real human. This is because vulnerability lies at the heart of real human connection. Effective charismatic leaders walk side-by-side in the trenches with their employees.
One of the best examples of a leader who practiced vulnerability and was still strong enough to motivate the masses is Mother Teresa. In fact, she’s known more for her humility and passive nature. She was a self-proclaimed servant who, by the time of her death in 1997, boasted more than 4,000 missionaries with presences in 123 countries.
Charismatic leaders rely on the loyalty and devotion of their followers. One of the best ways to continue to foster this is to be transparent.
Again, no one expects or wants perfection. Your team wants to know when the proverbial sh%+ is hitting the fan. Don’t sweep problems under the rug. Be open and upfront about them so that you can enlist the help and advice of your people.
They want to help you and to return the favor of your motivation back to you. It’s okay, and in fact, it’s encouraged to be honest and sincere when things aren’t going to plan. Charismatic leaders aren’t perfect, they’re relatable.
Nelson Mandela is a prime example of using transparency and honesty to inspire change. Drawing on his injustices and his ability to forgive them, he moved a nation toward a positive social revolution.
Develop your listening skills
Leaders are constantly being pulled in all directions; charismatic leaders are no different. One of the most important things you can do to make your team feel genuinely valued and cared about is to become a stellar listener.
Gandhi is a prime example of a leader who was able to truly listen and be introspective when it came to seeking solutions and invoking change.
Positive body language, eye contact, and staying focused
These actions show people that you truly care about what they have to say and value their opinion.
We know this can be difficult when you have 800 things to do that were supposed to happen yesterday, but never underestimate the power of being a good listener. You may learn far more about what’s really going on in your organization than you ever thought possible.
Examples of charismatic leadership
So often, when we think about our favorite charismatic leaders, we tend to think about people like Gandhi, Oprah, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr.and the like. All these leaders were touted for being able to motivate and inspire people through love and a genuine concern for their cause.
Not all charismatic leaders are good
Also consider this: Hitler, Napoleon, and Castro are additional examples of charismatic leaders. They too were also able to inspire massive amounts of people to join a cause. Unfortunately, the key to being an effective charismatic leader may not always be about the cause itself but in the leader’s ability to get people to join it. While we understand that it would check the boxes of what charismatic leadership is, we would challenge that effective leadership is not good enough. A charismatic leader must also lead ethically.
With that in mind, it’s easy for these types of influencers to become overly focused on their mission. They can ignore the more pressing and seemingly mundane details that threaten the welfare of an organization.
This tunnel vision can sometimes morph into stubbornness. An unwavering sense of right versus wrong can start to become a liability if people in a position of power aren’t open-minded enough to accept other opinions or viewpoints.
Don’t let your charisma style be misconstrued
When approached thoughtfully and from a place of love and sincerity, there are few forces as powerful as charismatic leadership. Just be sure that in your quest to become the best charismatic leader you can be, you stay aware of the potential pitfalls and take constant action to avoid them.
Once you bring charismatic leadership into the workplace and see the positive impact it has on so many aspects within your organization, you’ll want to continue to grow and develop as the leader you want and are truly meant to be.
Cool things some of the world’s most inspirational charismatic leaders have said
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
“It is in your hands to make a better world for all who live in it.”
“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”
“The world doesn’t belong to leaders. The world belongs to all humanity.”
“Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.”
“It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.”
“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
This last quote sums up a charismatic leader quite accurately. They are very adept at focusing on their passions and using that momentum to make you passionate about their cause with them. Their purpose and power are palpable, and it’s been used time and again to inspire not just companies but entire nations.