charisma is often a weakness in leaders

Is humility a key trait of highly effective leaders? Are charismatic leaders who can stir strong emotions more effective leaders?

Questions about these intertwined leadership characteristics recently came up in workshops and online discussions. Charismatic leadership seems to especially confuse many people. It’s a popular media stereotype of strong leadership. As much as I enjoy reading Fortune magazine, they keep adding to this misguided leadership view by continually putting larger-than-life CEOs, politicians, and other leaders on their covers and featuring stories on their forceful personalities.

Numerous studies show that charisma isn’t a key quality of highly effective leaders. A European study reports on “The Downside of Charisma” with this conclusion, “We found that leaders of the higher-performing companies were often not charismatic — and were, in fact, less likely to be charismatic than the leaders of the lower-performing companies. The problem with charismatic leaders is that exceptional powers of persuasion make it easy for them to overcome resistance and opposition to their chosen course of action.”

Charismatic leaders often don’t listen. They’re too busy overcoming resistance with their powers of persuasion. They often see humility as weakness. If they could shut up long enough to learn, they might discover that it’s a vital trait for great leadership. From his good to great research, Jim Collins found humility is a hallmark of the very best leaders. In his Harvard Business Review article, “Level 5 Leadership, The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” he wrote, “Level 5 leaders, inherently humble, look out the window to apportion credit – even undue credit – to factors outside themselves. If they can’t find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck. At the same time, they look in the mirror to assign responsibility, never citing bad luck or external factors when things go poorly. Conversely, the comparison executives frequently looked out the window for factors to blame but preened in the mirror to credit themselves when things went well.”

Humility is a vital part of the me/we continuum so central to leadership.  A leader with a healthy ego feels a deep sense of satisfaction in the accomplishments of the team or organization he or she is leading. Their ego is stroked by coaching, developing, and building others and watching them grow.

A leader me-deep in their unhealthy ego is self-centered and diminished by the accomplishments of others. The leader must always be in the spotlight and have others defer to their authority. This leader works to build dependence and a parent-child relationship. This unhealthy ego drives the leader to seek all credit for team or organization accomplishments and blame others for all failures.

Less effective leaders often have low levels of emotional intelligence. A webinar participant in last month’s Powerful New Approaches webinar asked, “what are some good ways to coach toward greater emotional intelligence?  This has proved difficult with low self-awareness in those with low EQ.”

 The best approach I’ve seen is 360 feedback. Low EQ awareness usually means it’s a fatal flaw. When leaders get that feedback, they’re often surprised or even shocked. They need to appreciate how fatal flaws drag down perceptions of their overall leadership effectiveness and the impact of that on engagement, service/quality, profitability, safety, etc. The challenge is often helping them understand that soft skills have become an even more critical priority. A strength-based 360 assessment and development process is the most effective approach to lower feedback resistance and raise energy for building a personal development plan.

Tomorrow we publish my January blogs in the February issue of The Leader Letter. This issue provides a follow up to last month’s webinar with a link to watch it, and a few answers to some of the questions raised. Engaging and energizing is a vital leadership task. You’ll have a chance to determine if you’re leading in the key of E. And we conclude our New Year’s series on losing those fake news blues with thoughts grounded in reality.

May you find some ideas to continue to keep yourself, your organization, and our world growing better and better.