Styles of Strategic Leadership: Is Charismatic Leadership only for a talented few? – Strong Advice

A revisit to an ancient leadership style 

In this series on strategic leadership styles, we are discussing the leaders of the effective style choose to be successful in a variety of situations. In the introductory article, we discussed how transactional leaders help organizations increase performance, especially in the short term. Alternatively, transformational leadership, defined in a 2nd article, seeks more ambitious changes to benefit the organization for the long term. To complete this series let’s set our thinking on a most ancient form of  

leadership used by many famous leaders, from King Solomon to Martin Luther King –- the charismatic style of leadership.  

Do you possess the ability to persuade, influence and inspire on such a grand scale? If you don’t possess this naturally, you are like most of us! You may be more comfortable with transactional or transformational styles. However, you should seek to develop this capability in yourself and others for certain situations we will discuss. As your skill in this area grows, you may find yourself on a larger stage than you could possibly imagine! 

Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders 

According to Robert Greene, charismatic leaders have an exciting presence. They are motivated by themselves. Charismatics have a daring self-confidence, a sense of purpose, and a level of contentment. Others are attracted to that kind of person simply because they are geared up for action. This very charged and magnetic presence garners the confidence of more and more followers.  

Charismatic leaders learn to be masters of body language and verbal communication. They often communicate by telling a story which allows their followers to identify with the main character. As skilled story tellers, their story is not about themselves but about their followers or about the whole organization. Using beautiful imagery and positive language that appeals to their team’s situation, the charismatic leader has the opportunity to move the organization in a dramatic way. 

The best charismatic leaders are not only articulate but also visionaries. They know how to paint a good picture of a very beautiful and pleasant future for their team. They convince the team of the undesirable aspects of their current situation (if necessary). They study their people well to know their hopes and dreams. When the charismatic leaders are able to combine their followers’ expectations with the beautiful future in mind, the followers produce the desired results. 

The compelling message of Charismatic Style of Leadership 

Charismatic leadership is thought to be the one leadership style that draws its authority from within the person and not by externals such as organization power. People generally grant charismatics the authority to lead them based on their warm personality, enthusiasm and a positive outlook for the future. Charismatics have a compelling message that inspires and engenders devotion from others. Leaders whose charismatic intentions are focused on followers (social charisma) have the ability to inspire them to take ownership of a beautifully described future, agree on key values for the organization and fuel action to accomplish the critical tasks. By doing so, they have the potential to succeed in transforming the morale of an entire organization or nation. Influencing people through personal attraction and a few hopeful words create the way for significant change in a short period of time. 

Charismatic leaders create an interpersonal connection with the followers, even though they may not know the leader personally. The followers experience the qualities of the leader through the positive message and they feel that the leader understands their needs. Their alignment with the vision and change is often based on heart-felt confidence in the leader and belief that they can overcome any obstacles with the support of the charismatic leader. 

Leaders like this inspire everyone to think differently. They challenge the status quo, not necessarily criticizing the present condition, but talking positively about the future. They are usually the most powerful change agents, especially to those unengaged or discouraged. We advise you to develop your own ability for this type of leadership and identify others who have this potential when the need arises in times of major change or crisis. Personal development steps are highlighted later in this article. 

Benefits of charismatic leadership 

Charismatic leadership results generally in increased net profit and equity growth because it influences people to do things in a way that promotes achievement and results despite the obstacles they face. Researchers like Carter and Greer (2013) found an outstanding correlation between charismatic leadership and the bottom line. Individuals become so passionate about their business that they take personal risks and make sacrifices beyond the normal expectations. 

Charismatic behaviors have a very unique way of influencing and changing organizational culture. A company that is failing can be inspired to turn around the business when people suddenly believe in a new way and in a new inspirational leader. Charismatic leadership spends less time and energy on aligning the people to the mission of the organization because the people are already charged with positive energy and determination to implement the vision. The charismatic leader excels in convincing the followers that the vision and strategy is all about them. So the people are already fueled to run with whatever the leader tells them is needed to reach the desired end. 

Personal Development of Charismatic Leadership 

Perhaps Charismatic leadership style is not your preferred style. Yet, the situation in your organization may require such a leadership style for a period of time. Here are some steps to develop your skills so that you can be prepared when the time comes. 

  1. Learn better ways to communicate with your team: Communication is the most essential skill of a charismatic leader. Spend time on developing your communication skills in storytelling, for example. Put more thought and energy into developing your presentations or speeches by using symbolism and metaphors. Appeal to your team’s hopes and desires and call them out subtly in response to your organization’s vision/goals. Practice speaking! It is good to develop a theatrical sense with your words and tone so that your message has greater impact. Work for memorable phrases or “sound bites”. Speaking with clarity and enthusiasm gains followers!  
  1. Design & create a compelling vision: A compelling vision has to be about changing things for the better.  Always make sure you are exploring new ways and innovative systems that could change the life and purpose of your team to be more significant or strategic. You have to believe your vision first before anyone else can follow! Keep yourself a bit detached from your current reality especially if it is not so pleasant by focusing on the reality you envision. That way you will not be drawn into petty things that will diminish your influence or detract from your team’s enthusiasm. Remember not to be negative and criticize the present! Instead paint a better picture for what the future holds! 
  1. Be sensitive to your people and the environment: A charismatic leader is able to enthuse a crowd of people because he understands them and is able to adapt his actions and words to relate to their situations. Pay close attention to people when they talk to you. Look them in the eyes and seek a deeper connection with them. Your eyes are important elements of your influence among people. By paying attention to people when they talk, you are able to see their pains, needs, joys and sorrows. Then you are prepared to respond to them with sensitivity and gain their trust and loyalty.  
  1. Let your people feel and know how much you value them: Forgetting this can be a downfall of charismatic leaders because they receive so much personal attention. They begin to think that the cause is all about themselves. Let your followers know you are there for them. Show you have confidence in your people by empowering them with important roles and the authority to carry them out. Remember, people are drawn to you because of the way you make them feel about themselves and the organization. 
  1. Build a reputation of trust and integrity: This advice is for any leader in any situation. Be true to yourself. Demonstrate the kind of character that you would want your boss to have. When there is difficulty in your organization, ensure that you are present and available to support the team, inject confidence and maintain enthusiasm for the end result. Being confident builds confidence and loyalty from your followers.  When there is criticism of your team, be the first to accept responsibility as the leader. 
  1. Take time to rest, rejuvenate and reflect: Since the leadership styles comes from within you need to take time to rest both your body and your mind. Take time to reflect and keep thinking of new ideas for leading and communicating. Take time to recharge so that you can have the high energy it takes to lead charismatically. If you can do that, your charismatic leadership can thrive.  
  1. Model yourself after great examples: Choose a few good examples of effective charismatic leaders. Read their books and observe how they inspire others. Practice their methods.  

If a crisis or a quick turnaround of your organization is required, you will be prepared to lead if you follow these steps. If already a naturally charismatic leader, these steps can help you improve. It is challenging and exciting to lead by the charismatic style!

By Fountain Abani
Lead Trainer – Executive & Corporate at Strong Advice 

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