You never hear charismatic leaders describing themselves as charismatic, although others might label them as such. This is because charisma is a personality trait others decide you have. For a person to be charismatic, they must make people feel inspired, important, understood, and special. This means charisma is less of a God-given leadership quality and more about how people perceive you. To create this specific perception, leaders must think, act, and behave in a way that influences their team to view them as charming, caring, motivational, supportive, infectious, and warm. When a leader guides their employees in this manner, they naturally practice charismatic leadership.
In this article, learn more about charismatic leadership, charismatic personality traits, the pros and cons of this leadership style, examples of it in action, and how to be more charismatic.
What is Charismatic Leadership?
Charismatic leadership is a particular leadership style that uses communication skills, storytelling, empathy, persuasiveness, and other skills to boost morale and inspire others to action. A charismatic leader is able to emotionally resonate with their followers, making them feel motivated even in the face of adversity. For this reason, charismatic leadership theory works well in companies that support a strong social cause. Leaders of this type drive people to stay positive, upbeat, and always looking ahead.
Charismatic leadership is one of the seven different leadership styles. It is most similar to transformational leadership because the two are both practiced by leaders who feel called to fulfill their vision of a greater future.
Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders
- Walking through life with a positive attitude
- Being resilient and encouraging people to keep fighting for a collective cause
- Showing a desire to rise above the status quo
- Engaging with group members on an emotional level by practicing active listening, showing empathy, providing support, and getting to know followers on a personal level
- Limiting self-doubt and displaying a high level of confidence
- Inspiring others to act on their words and fulfill the vision they’ve established
- Demonstrating the ability to creatively solve problems and overcome roadblocks preventing the fulfillment of their mission
- Driving results and pushing for goal achievement by acting as a motivator or coach
- Avoiding toxic leadership behavior like being arrogant, bossy, or rude
- Showing elite communication skills
Pros and Cons of Charismatic Leadership
There are advantages and disadvantages to having a charismatic personality in business. While being a charismatic leader is usually considered a good thing, this leadership style also has a dark side. Because those who practice charismatic leadership are so influential, they can often manipulate people into doing what they want or find themselves lost in a power trip. However, with proper self-management, companies and their people can benefit from charismatic leaders and their behavior. Learn more about this below.
- Leaders inspire their employees to reach their full potential.
- People feel emotionally fulfilled by the work they’re doing to better the world.
- There’s an increased sense of teamwork and knowing you are a part of something greater than yourself.
- The work is challenging yet exciting and engaging, which increases job satisfaction and employee retention.
- Goals are clearly communicated—there’s a lot of direction on where the organization is going and how to fulfill these objectives.
- Charismatic leaders expect their followers to be as committed to their cause as they are. This can lead to work burnout and emotional fatigue.
- Those guiding organizations in a charismatic manner might show little patience for progress. For example, they continuously set unrealistic deadlines and get angry when the team doesn’t finish the work within the proposed amount of time.
- The leader feels so passionate about their mission that they can ignore team members’ concerns, opinions, and thoughts. As a result, the team makes more business mistakes. This runs in contrast to the democratic leadership style.
- Trust is lost when leaders act charismatic but don’t follow through on their promises. This also occurs when they expect everyone to do the work needed to fulfill their vision, but they seem to go missing when the team needs help and support.
- While people can learn to practice skills that make others perceive them as more charismatic, there’s no guarantee that this is how others will view them. This is especially true for people who lack social skills or don’t naturally enjoy being sociable.
Charismatic Leaders Examples
So, what does charismatic leadership look like in real life? Listed below are a few quotes from famous charismatic leaders that show why they’re well-known for demonstrating the leadership qualities associated with this leadership style.
Winston Churchill, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival . . . I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’”
In this quote from his “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech, Churchill demonstrates many characteristics of a charismatic leader. He clearly states the “what,” “how,” and “why” of his mission. He also expresses a sense of camaraderie while remaining positive, despite the bleak circumstances he faced.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Minister and Civil Rights Activist
“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history . . . to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality . . . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.”
In MLK’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, he shares a vision for a brighter, more just future. His words communicate how dire the situation unfolding in America is, but as a charismatic leader, he holds on to the hope and belief that things will change for the better. He speaks passionately about the cause he fights for, showing no sign of giving up. While he was giving the speech, he credited all of those who joined him in the battle for equal rights. This demonstration of humility, emotional intelligence, and vision-casting illustrate why he’s commonly seen as one of the greatest charismatic leaders history has ever known.
Oprah Winfrey, Chairman and CEO of OWN
“I come from passion, it’s just my nature, a willingness to understand, and to be understood, and I come from wanting to connect. I mean, the secret of that show, for 25 years, is that people could see themselves in me. All over the world. They could see themselves in me.”
Winfrey is a great example of the emotional intelligence a person needs to be a charismatic leader. As she explains herself in the above quote taken from an interview with the Stanford Graduate School of Business, her success hinges on her ability to connect with others. The reason she’s widely recognized as one of the world’s most charismatic entrepreneurs is for her eagerness to relate to others and make them feel seen and understood.
Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oprah Winfrey all represent different aspects of charismatic leadership. Churchill always focused on the mission. King offered an optimistic vision of the future. And Winfrey capitalized on her ability to connect with others.
How to Practice the Charismatic Leadership Style
Becoming just like transformational leaders like Churchill, King, and Winfrey might seem like an impossible feat. However, being charismatic doesn’t require being born with an extraordinary gift of charm and likeability. More important is following the best practices that will make people perceive you as an inspirational, engaging, influential leader. Follow the steps listed below to learn more about how to do this.
1. Have a Clear Vision
Charismatic leaders cast a vision that motivates their followers to act on their words. Because they effectively communicate what better future they’re working toward and how to make it happen, they see goals get accomplished. Team members need a clear vision to keep the momentum rolling. Without this type of direction, companies find themselves stagnant, unproductive, impactless, and unprofitable.
To refine your vision:
- Lead with the company’s “why,” and make sure all business initiatives connect to achieving this purpose. Additionally, communicate how employees’ work fulfills the meaning of the organization.
- Revisit your business’s vision and mission statements. Do they align with the organization’s “why?” If not, make the necessary changes, and communicate these to employees.
- Develop a visualization practice that focuses on sharpening your foresight. What future are you working toward? Reverse engineer how to make this happen and write down the steps to turn these into projects the company works on.
2. Relate to Your Audience Through Storytelling
As business consultant Peg Neuhauser explains, “No tribal chief or elder has ever handed out statistical reports, charts, graphs, or lists to explain where the group is headed or what it must do.” Charismatic leaders supplement their leadership skills by becoming great storytellers instead of focusing solely on metrics and crunched numbers. Storytelling is one of the best ways to connect with others by discussing shared values, beliefs, and life experiences.
When practicing to become a strong storyteller:
- Think about the big picture message you want to convey. How would your audience relate to this point?
- Use descriptive language that allows people to visualize the words you speak.
- Consider your body language, tone of voice, and energetic presence when telling different parts of a story.
- Pepper the speech with motivational quotes or stories about other people.
- Study great storytellers in business. Watch them speak, read their books, and listen to them on podcasts. This includes people like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and Sheryl Sandberg. Take notes on what they do successfully and how you can incorporate their strategies into your own storytelling style.
3. Increase Your Emotional Intelligence
As pastor Dan Reiland says, “How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are making them feel good about you.” Yet, to do this, a leader must be emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence consists of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. All of the skills in each quadrant helps people build strong interpersonal relationships with one another—a key characteristic of charismatic leadership.
To show up as an emotionally intelligent charismatic leader:
- Use listening skills when others speak, and get curious about team members’ thoughts, ideas, feelings, and concerns. This prevents one of the situations that often lead to charismatic leaders’ downfalls: tunnel vision.
- Recognize toxic behaviors and emotional triggers. For example, do you set the standard that there’s no work-life balance at the company by staying at the office until 8:00 p.m. every night? Do you yell at people when you feel overwhelmed or exhausted? Acknowledge, correct, and prevent these behaviors from happening to avoid a poor work culture from developing.
- Openly show employee recognition and appreciation.
- Select a skill from each quadrant to practice each week. For example, this might look like working on empathy, which is located in the relationship management domain.
Learn more about gaining a higher level of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
4. Be Willing to Take a Strong Stance
It’s important to note the charismatic leadership style doesn’t just produce devoted followers: it creates dissenters, too. That’s because true charismatic leaders represent a movement that is greater than themselves. Think about the leaders listed above. Imagine the turmoil they experienced as they walked through life, dealing with those who disagreed with their vision. Consider how many people tried to convince them to put their mission to rest. It shows that charismatic leaders must take a strong stance and fight for what they believe in. To do this, a leader needs both passion and patience. These two leadership qualities keep groups working together as they battle for what they believe in.
Find out more about how to keep passion and patience alive.
Demonstrate charismatic leadership by doing four things: having a clear vision, relating to your audience through stories, increasing your emotional intelligence, and taking a strong stance.
Charisma is Only One Leadership Quality Needed for Success
When executed with a high level of humility and self-awareness, charismatic leadership is one of the most valuable ways to guide a team. However, this doesn’t mean it should be the only leadership style a person uses. A person is perceived as charismatic because they make it a goal to be a phenomenal leader through and through. As Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus write in Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, “Charisma is the result of effective leadership, not the other way around.”
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- Burke, W. W. (1985). Leaders: The strategies for taking charge, by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. New York: Harper & Row, 1985, 244 pp., $19.95. Human Resource Management, 24(4), 503–508. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.3930240409
- Choy, E. (2021, September 19). Business Storytelling Culture Can Improve Your Organization In 3 Big Ways. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/estherchoy/2021/09/19/business-storytelling-culture-can-improve-your-organization-in-3-big-ways/
- Martin Luther King – Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. (n.d.). http://www.nobelprizes.com/nobel/peace/MLK-nobel.html
- Pixelstorm. (2022). Blood, toil, tears and sweat. International Churchill Society. https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1940-the-finest-hour/blood-toil-tears-sweat/
- Rao, M.S. “Are You A Charismatic Leader?” Academic Leadership: The Online Journal. Fort Hays State University. https://scholars.fhsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1401&context=alj
- Stanford Graduate School of Business. (2014, May 21). Oprah Winfrey: The Secret of my success [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fohCkaIhnBc