Every leadership style has a different area of focus. For instance, some types of leadership – such as democratic leadership – focus on the development of people. Others, such as bureaucratic leadership, focus on existing processes and hierarchies. Today, we’re going to focus on a leadership style that puts the spotlight on the leaders themselves: charismatic leadership.
What is charismatic leadership?
Charismatic leadership is defined by a leader who uses his or her communication skills, persuasiveness, and charm to influence others. Charismatic leaders, given their ability to connect with people on a deep level, are especially valuable within organizations that are facing a crisis or are struggling to move forward.
Every charismatic leader looks a little bit different. However, there are many key characteristics that most charismatic leaders share:
- Strong communicator
- Empathetic and relatable
- Engaging and charming
You may notice that charismatic leadership shares many traits with transformational leadership. While similar, there’s one important difference: charismatic leaders rely on their own personality and skillset to move their followers to action, while transformational leaders rely on a shared vision to create change. So while most transformational leaders tend to be charismatic, not all charismatic leaders are necessarily transformational.
What are the pros and cons of charismatic leadership?
Charismatic leaders can have a powerful, positive influence on an organization and the people they lead. But if approached the wrong way, this leadership style can easily lead to unintended consequences. To help you better understand what these potential strengths and weaknesses can look like, we outlined the pros and cons of this leadership style below:
- Highly inspirational and motivating
- Encourages a sense of camaraderie, collaboration, and union
- Makes followers feel heard and understood
- Creates movement toward positive change
- Can become more focused on themselves than their people
- Has the potential to become self serving
- Frequently viewed as shallow or disingenuous
How to apply charismatic leadership
As we mentioned before, one of the potential pitfalls of charismatic leadership is its tendency to focus too much on the leader instead of the people. To prevent this from happening, and to maximize the potential of this leadership style, we recommend taking the following steps:
A common negative association with charismatic leaders is that they’re not authentic. To combat this, we recommend practicing vulnerability. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you always need to be perfect or demonstrate strength as a leader. But the truth is that vulnerability lies at the root of human connection. When you’re brave enough to show your authentic self, your employees will be more trusting of you and find you more relatable.
So if your organization is facing challenges, don’t try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like everything is okay. Instead, have the courage to share your fears, doubts, and insecurities with employees – who are likely already aware of the issues and may be experiencing anxiety themselves. Being vulnerable in situations like this will make it more likely that a company moves forward together as a team.
Develop your listening skills
Imagine that you had a deep, thoughtful conversation with someone at your company. During this interaction, you shared personal details with the other person and felt more bonded to them as a result. But the next time you run into them, they don’t seem to remember anything you talked about! This is a surefire way to make someone feel terrible and overlooked.
As a charismatic leader who engages in many conversations on a daily basis, it may be tempting to tune out what the other person is saying or operate on autopilot. As you can see in the example we shared, this can have detrimental effects. So work on developing and practicing your active listening skills. If you think you need some more guidance in this area, look for training opportunities or to a coach to help you develop this skill.
Don’t praise an employee or make empty promises simply because it sounds good. This is a trap that charismatic leaders can fall into since they’re so focused on inspiring and motivating others. In the process, it’s easy to say things that aren’t entirely true for the sake of making someone feel good. Instead, always prioritize being honest, sincere, and straightforward in your communication. Over time, your employees will learn to trust what you say and increasingly look to you for information and feedback.
If approached thoughtfully, charismatic leadership has the potential to bring positive change to any organization. Be aware of the potential pitfalls of this leadership style, take the action needed to prevent them from happening, and you’ll find that this to be an incredibly effective type of leadership to practice in your role.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your own leadership style can help you better identify which approach is best for your current role. Check out our ebook, 10 Leadership Styles You Should Know, to learn more about different approaches to leadership and when and how to apply them.