The 19th century sociologist Max Weber maintained that we follow charismatic leaders because we have a deep personal trust of their vision, unique qualities, and inspiration. In that sense, charisma is a fundamental emotional relationship and we often relate to charismatic leaders in spite of their limitations and flaws.

It is often believed that the strength of the charismatic leader is to empower followers and give them the sense that they matter and that the charismatic leader is no more or less than their voice.

There is a formed bond between charismatic leader and followers--a bond based on the belief that something can be different. In this context the inevitable challenge is to figure out when a charismatic individual is just a dramatic inspiration and when he or she is a charismatic leader capable of not only sweeping vision, but moving an agenda for results.

There is no question that charisma is a major attribute; the problem is when charisma itself gets in the way of accomplishment. Charisma may get one recognition, it may get one followers, it may even get one elected, but when it comes down to the nuts-and-bolts, charismatic leaders have very distinct limitations. The very attributes that allow them to dramatically appeal to a wide audience will often, over time, assure that very little will get done.

Among the flaws that you want to consider before support a charismatic individual for a leadership position are the following:

1. They're unconventional behavior can alienate a great many people whose cooperation they may need. While on the one hand their unconventional behavior may be appealing when they're trying to gain support, when it comes to working in an organizational structure, their unconventional behavior may lead to irreverent and unsuccessful management.

2. We often see charismatic leaders as disruptive innovators, but more often than not they are impulsive. They make rapid decisions based on emotional instincts rather than taking a more analytical path. Because they have a need for audience gratification they often blurt out impulsive suggestions which, rather than being constructively disruptive and creative, are simply unconsidered sound bytes that others take too seriously.

3. Charismatic leaders also spend a great deal of their time devaluing others in their efforts to idealize their vision. Many charismatic leaders spend a great deal of their time not simply challenging the ideas of others, but degrading them and dismissing them. This tends to make others hesitant to critique or challenge them, often destroying the psychological safety needed for the dialogue of good ideas.

4. Charismatic leaders often fail to focus on the day-to-day operations. Placing a great deal of emphasis on their vision, charismatic leaders often come off as superficial and not concerned with essential details.

5. Charismatic leaders also have a tendency to employ an autocratic management style because they are at the center of their vision and because they are the sole source for any legitimacy and direction. They inevitably begin to believe their own importance and assume an autocratic style.

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Does this mean you should never support a charismatic leader? No. If that was the case we would have lost many of our great leaders. But the question to ask oneself when considering a charismatic leader is whether or not he or she knows limitations of charisma.

The truly great charismatic leader is aware of their flaws. They realize they need to listen to others, they believe in dialogue, they try to be humble instead of arrogant, they control their impulsive urges, they don't berate, and they don't need to dominate.

Published on: Aug 28, 2015
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