Charismatic leadership is a concept popularized by German sociologist Max Weber. He surmised that aside from fear, habit and self-interest, there was another reason people followed leaders; because they believe that they are good or what they are doing is right.
Charismatic leadership relies on the persuasiveness of the leader, their strong belief in their goal and the ability to make their teams (or followers) feel the same way. When charismatic leaders speak, they are able to motivate, inspire and get people to accomplish the task at hand.
Charismatic leadership, unlike Weber’s two other classifications of authority; traditional and legal, depends on the personality of the individual, not so much on the business structures or even his or her skills. Names like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Eva Peron come up when we think of charismatic leaders.
You might know these famous examples in the contemporary business world. Sherly Sandberg, COO at Facebook-She helped improve the earnings at Facebook, is an author and an activist. Prior to her move to Facebook she was involved in the launching of Google.org, the charity arm of the company.
Kazuo Hirai, former CEO of Sony Entertainment, who was able to lead Sony back to prominence by amongst other moves, revamping Playstation. Oprah Winfrey, the media maven who is the founder and chairwoman Harpo productions and the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Characteristics of charismatic leaders
They are visionaries
Charismatic leaders are unsatisfied with the status quo and envision a situation with optimum results for their organisations and for the employees. This makes them open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
They are open to risks
As one famous saying goes; To get something you have never had, you need to do something you have never done. Charismatic leaders are risk takers. To achieve their visions they often go ahead to do things that can have repercussions to themselves and their careers.
They are good communicators
Their skills of communication, whether written or spoken, are excellent. Using their words they are able to appeal to the needs of the people they lead in specific terms and motivate them to move forward. This skill is just as effective whether they are speaking to groups or individuals.
In the same way, they are good listeners, hearing the people that they lead and pushing for ways to make their lives better.
How charismatic leadership differs from other types of leadership
Autocratic leadership vs. Charismatic leadership
With autocratic leadership, the leader gives orders and they are expected to be followed. It is aggressive and gives little room for feedback. This works well in the military where executing without pushback is the norm. In other settings this hard handed leadership can lead to high turnover and high levels of worker dissatisfaction.
Charismatic leadership appeals to the emotions of the employees, they work because they feel aligned to the goal at hand and to the person leading the way. A charismatic leader wins over his team by doing things that work for the good of everyone, both the company and the individuals.
Laissez faire leadership vs. Charismatic leadership
Laissez faire leadership uses a more hands off approach and leaves individuals to make a lot of the decisions including problem solving and setting some deadlines. Warren Buffet is heralded for making it work successfully.
The leader provides over sight and comes in only when necessary. The laissez faire approach will work well with workers who have expert skills and knowledge to perform tasks.
With charismatic leadership, the leader is a constant guide. It very much leans on the individual in charge. Unlike laissez faire leadership, Charismatic leadership focuses on guiding the many to achieve a common goal.
Democratic leadership vs. Charismatic leadership
Democratic and charismatic leadership styles have a number of similarities; they believe in the well-being of the group or team, in other words, decisions are made with the good of the team in mind, they are very group oriented, they rely heavily on the direction of the leader.
However, with the charismatic leadership style, it’s not enough that the team works together, it is that they are working for the greater good (or what they perceive to be so). This is why a lot of charismatic leaders appeal to the emotions of their employees and followers. Democratic leadership is more fact and rational based.
Benefits of charismatic leaders
They are able to inspire large groups of people to work together to achieve a common goal.
With this type of person in charge, you can expect an increase on employee loyalty. This is because employees feel valued and cared for by their leader.
It fosters a learning behavior which improves productivity over time. Mistakes are treated as opportunities to learn and grow.
It creates an environment for innovation. Charismatic leaders inspire people to do their best to get to the goal. Coupled with their own ability to take risks, organisations can see more innovations.
It is true that charismatic leaders can achieve great things and that as a style, it can have exceptional effects on organisations. But charismatic leadership can be destructive for the very same reasons it is effective. Below are some ways how:
Charismatic leaders are a tough act to follow. The organisation can rely so heavily on them that when they leave, they have a hard time keeping the business going. A very clear example of this was with Steve Jobs’ first tenure at Apple. Upon his exit, the company struggled. However, he was able to leave behind better structures on his second round.
In the pursuit of the goal, charismatic leaders might assume their ideals to be greater than rules and the law. This can lead them to commit violations; financial and otherwise.
Because their employees and colleagues see them as ‘all knowing’ and trust them implicitly, it can create situations where their bad decisions and choices do not get questioned.
For a similar reason, the leaders believing so much in their own talents, they start to ignore their employees and take on dictatorial tendencies.
Charismatic leadership has its place in many industries, not only in times of crisis and to drive change but in every day operations. However, in strict industries where an adherence to set structures is necessary, charismatic leadership is best coupled with other styles of leadership.
Organisations can have the best of all worlds by having a hybrid leadership model, with a few qualities picked from several styles.