Charismatic leadership attracts followers, but you need substance also.
Updated: Jul 25
Have you ever:
- Questioned why people who are so talented don’t seem to have the same drive as you?
- Been frustrated because your teams aren’t grabbing what is clearly an opportunity within their reach?
- Wondered why, although your team are really capable they seem to hold back?
Charisma is a powerful trait in leadership, but alone it is not enough
“You have more power if people like you”
(James Hunt to Niki Lauder, Rush)
Remember, even when your teams are passionate about something, they may defer to you
Often the person to be promoted is the “…charismatic leader that motivates people [rather than]…the sharply intelligent person who rubs folks the wrong way now and then in pursuit of the truth.” writes Mary Faulkner (2018) in her blog “Surviving Leadership”. She goes on to note that when leaders are liked their mistakes might be given “more grace”, they may have “higher close rates”, and it is easier to “influence and lead”. However, she notes, charismatic James Hunt only won one championship, Nikki Lauder won three.
The likability of a leader, especially if they often try to help can, ironically, be disempowering to their teams. If you are nudged by someone you like and you’re more likely to go along, this is true professionally as well…after all we are still the same people, just in different clothing.
If you are the leader constantly nudging, then the question to ask yourself is why?
- Are you afraid of being left out?
- Do you REALLY think they cannot do it?
- Have the team been empowered with the tools to work alone?
Cheerleading from a charismatic leader can be hugely positive and supportive. On the other it can be clipping the wings of a team without anyone really realising. As their leader, teams will automatically seek validation from you, and in order for them to grow, you have to have a point in a project at which you stop offering it (eg. The theatre director never directs from the wings when the actors take the stage to perform, although they may be there to help out if things go wrong and the actors cannot solve it themselves); or you need to be strict with the amount of input you offer…even if you think an outcome could be enhanced. If you do not, you will always be factored into everything they do (because they know you can, could and would help – and often improve their work), but they will not be flying completely solo.
Provide Means, Motive and Opportunity to succeed
If you wish people were as committed or as passionate as you to your cause, remember this: People often aren’t deliberately choosing not to follow their passion. To be doing a job you love, in a company that you enjoy being part of is a rare and valuable thing. To have their job, they often have the means/ability; if they like the company they often have the motivation what they might lack is the opportunity.
The “crime triangle” suggests that the instigation of a (criminal) event requires all three elements – so to does progression to success. The “crime triangle” premise is that for most crimes to occur all three elements need to be fulfilled. Remove one, and it can be prevented. Add whichever element is missing rather than simply pushing what is already there.
- How easy is it for your team to focus on the enjoyment of the project rather than results?
- Is there a need for targets (sales, financial, satisfied customers) to be made – if not by you, by the organisational culture?
- Is progression or appraisal focused on project completion alone?
- Do you, or other potential mentors have time to train or offer support which takes time rather than offer immediate solutions?
Most staff members bring their own desire (motivation) and ability, but often the focus within the organisation rests on praise (desire/motivation) or correction/training (ability). Instead give them the chance to shine. …and then consider if you can simply trust them rather than teach them
The Charismatic leader can often lead on strength of character alone – but that leaves a huge void should that leadership lapse for any reason.
Development beyond charisma
If one of your talents is a winning personality also consider doing the following:
- Think through your actions and consequences for all involved before shooting too fast from the hip. You may get through unscathed – will the team?
- Base your decisions on facts and understanding, modelling this to your teams.
- Use coaching techniques to encourage others to make their own choices – asking them “What two options would you consider best here?” or “What thoughts do you already have?” – sometimes letting them have the time to prepare before they answer can also help.
- Pay extra mind to those who do not, at first glance, have a similar temperament to your own – they may process things in a manner which you too can learn from…you may even seek to hire them deliberately.
- Remember that charisma, while attractive, is one of many positive leadership traits and always seek to develop your other skills.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt