Charisma is a quality that sets people apart. It encompasses unusual magnetism and a presence that can inspire intense enthusiasm and devotion.

Charisma can be great, but charisma alone does not make someone a good leader.

Because they typically display high energy, charismatic people often find it easier to be endorsed for leadership positions. The fact that many charismatic leaders aren’t averse to displaying (or embellishing) “heroic” actions doesn’t hurt either. But while charisma does have the ability to power large-scale change, charisma that isn’t backed by strong character can be disastrous. So why do we gravitate toward charismatic people in general and charismatic leaders in particular?

Anxiety Makes Charisma More Appealing

In times of uncertainty, anxiety, or crisis, charisma in a leader can be intensely appealing. It allows us to perhaps wash our hands of some of our own responsibility because the “superhero” leader appears to have all the answers.

When people strongly feel the need for change, charisma can be a strong draw. Many charismatic leaders also embrace a “high risk/high reward” ethos that appeals strongly to people who feel the need for change but don’t feel empowered to do much on their own in the situation. Unfortunately, when charismatic leaders don’t deliver during such situations, the results can be catastrophic.

Humility in Leadership Actually Gets Results

Humility in a leader gets actual results. This doesn’t mean having a leader who constantly lists their own mistakes. Rather, the humble leader is all about accountability: owning mistakes, learning from them, and moving forward. Why do leaders with humility end up getting better results than “superhero” leaders? There are several reasons.

  • They are willing to hold themselves as well as others accountable
  • They actively encourage and empower followers to learn and grow
  • They know when to accept personal risk for the greater good

Humility is as humility does.

As you may imagine, this sets an outstanding example for others. By giving others a stake in success, humble leaders don’t necessarily make it easy on followers, but they encourage followers to develop their own excellence and take ownership of their part in solving problems. People collaborate more, are more inclusive, and are more willing to go the extra mile.

Humility and Charisma Not Mutually Exclusive

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that humility and charisma are mutually exclusive. As I discuss in my book The Intelligent Leader, genuine courage and humility are closely linked. Courage isn’t about powering through and letting the chips fall where they may. Real courage is the act of moving forward having calculated the risks and made a decision based on multiple factors.

Followers of the charismatic “superhero” leaders may be content to sit back and let this seemingly unstoppable individual take control of the situation, and it’s easy to see how that can lead to problems. It may be harder to follow the leader with humility (however charismatic they may be), but ultimately the risks are lower and the long-term rewards greater.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with personal magnetism. And magnetic leaders who also possess a strong character, along with humility and courage, can lead people to accomplish astounding things. Fortunately, most people are able to quickly see through “empty” charisma. Faced with such a situation, they may have to do a lot of hard work to correct course.

Leadership development must emphasize the real “meat” of what leadership is: the commitment, passion, authenticity, humility, and courage that will be required to lead effectively. Organizations that commit to this level of leadership development will incur less risk of promoting a leader solely based on their personal appeal, and their organization will benefit immeasurably from it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Intelligent Leadership, I encourage you to check out my books. 

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