All of us revere charismatic leaders. We relate to the charisma of leaders like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Jack Welch and so on. We get mesmerized with their words and inspired by their actions. We idolize them and do not need to examine their words with a lens of rationality. They do not need any special intervention to align the thoughts of their team members. Once signed up, the members stay committed to the cause and the conviction levels do not change. How often do we see such leaders? Is charisma a born quality or it can be acquired? When do we know that we have a charismatic leader amidst us? Is it practical to expect all the leaders in an organization are charismatic?
Is Charisma something that you either have or don’t?
People ask if leaders are born or made. Loads of research have taken place and most of them seem to believe that one-third of leadership traits are in-born and the majority of the traits are learned. Similarly, is Charisma a born quality?
If charisma is a born quality, all the leaders that we consider charismatic would have shone brightly right from their first experience of working with a group. We know of tales of these great leaders who were shy and private personalities; were not the natural public speakers. All of them were not gregarious; they were not magnets attracting people towards them. They were inspired by a cause and built a franchise of support base that connected with the same cause; they developed their ability to connect with the audience through their words – spoken and written; though their actions on the ground in support of the same cause. They knew how to establish that unique connection and kept at it. So, charisma is something that grows over a period of time like skills develop, maturity grows and strength evolves. It isn’t binary like YES and NO. It is a process of acquiring it one’s own way.
Good for an Organization?
Many predicted that Apple Computers will be in trouble after its charismatic leader Steve Jobs was away. Similarly, people weren’t sure if GE would continue staying at the top after Jack Welch is gone. However, all these fears have been put to rest.
It is true that a charismatic leader has a huge fan-following. So, organizations function very well without worrying much about the internal processes for governance and decision making. Various stakeholders respect the aura of the leader; they tend to see the bright side of the actions and gloss over the dark sides. The charisma of the leader is so strong in the minds of the followers that the leader’s intentions are never questioned.
For a sustainable organization, it is important to have democratic processes, objectives and rational approach interlaced with the commitment of its employees towards the overall goal. Since a charismatic leader inspires the teams very well and the leader’s appeal is strong in their hearts, the organization stays cohesive. It is not necessary to put in place many internal processes and run them rigorously.
Missionaries of Charity ran in more than 100 countries in the world because all the teams in the world were deeply influenced by Mother Teresa, their leader. They did not need a machine-like organization to deliver the results. However, for the organization to sustain for many more decades, strong processes are required. A charismatic leader will be a huge plus, of course! A start-up, a new idea flourishes very well under the leadership of a visionary, a charismatic persona; for it to blossom into a greater and bigger institution, one cannot rely on charisma alone.
Grow your charisma!
We look upto someone who speaks his mind and appeals to our hearts. As much courage is needed to speak up, that much is required to listen! Do we listen to understand someone and examine our beliefs or counter the other person’s viewpoint? Can we step into someone’s shoes and feel what the person is going through? Do we genuinely care about the people we work with? Do we show our care and compassion bound by the role of being the boss or we do it because we seriously care of their well-being? Do we talk the talk or walk the talk? Talking the talk wins someone the face-time but not the heart-time. Do we wear the mask of being confident, knowledgeable, unassailable, invincible and enigmatic all the time or stay human? Do we stay humble? Do we improve continuously and accept our follies?
Being authentic and human, passionate about a cause and connecting with the larger audience are the best solutions for someone aspiring to be a charismatic leader.