The value people put on the quality of leadership is often associated with the individual leader’s charisma.
Wikipedia states that charisma has two senses: (1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, (2) a divinely conferred power or talent. There are many who would argue that these are not mutually exclusive.
When faced with leaders of different personalities, powers and persuasions, it is often fascinating to see how some people are drawn to them with admiration whilst others find them wholly distasteful. Liking a leader is sometimes born out of an identification with their values and personality, but it can also flow from a liking of their style and message – sometimes regardless of an alignment with their values. Disliking a leader can stem from the converse.
It’s quite a study to look at leaders who undoubtedly have charisma, but where the outcomes of this do not follow the Wikipedia definition, i.e. the charisma may not be a compelling attractiveness or a charm that inspires devotion in others. So we must conclude that charisma on its own is not enough to bring unilateral admiration. This is of course not anything new …. the annals of history are full of leaders who had their bands of followers and also their haters.
It is a rare occurrence to find a leader who is able to hold charisma with humility, empathy and wisdom. And even when we come across such a person, others will choose to criticize them (and therefore not admire them) for being too passive and not inspirational enough.
So should we even look at charisma as a mark of leadership? Should we settle on a list such as integrity, collaboration, agility and respect? I guess that’s what many organizations have done with their competency frameworks. It might also be quite controversial and difficult to put behavioral indicators around charisma. It’s probably true that we get close to measuring charisma when we look at things like executive presence, impact and influence. And then again there is something quite intangible about the X-factor that some leaders have.
Charisma isn’t always associated with an extrovert personality. It can be associated with a sharp, witty sense of humor that puts people at ease and draws them together. It can be associated with an impressive vocabulary used to bring words of wisdom every time the leader opens their mouth. It can be associated with the close friendship and intense interest a leader has with everyone around them. Or it can be associated with the vision and strategic grasp a leader has to galvanize listeners behind a plan of action. There are many more ways in which charisma can be observed. To stereotype charismatic leaders is to misrepresent the understanding of the word charisma.
Leadership charisma is something that is needed in today’s world. I would argue that it is needed alongside those other value such as integrity, respect, etc. It is also something that should be identified, encouraged, valued and developed in leaders – for the sake of every follower. Let’s value the uniqueness of someone’s charisma as well as value the consistency and standards that other competencies bring.