As Mark Twain said of himself, ‘The death of the charismatic leader has been grossly exaggerated’. The problem is that ‘charisma’ has changed its face. Many years ago, charismatic leadership sounded loud. A charismatic leader was supposed to mesmerize, exhibit exuberant passion (stereotype of the American leader?), be extraordinarily persuasive (would sell ice to Eskimos) and be able to command an almost unconditional following. Of course I am in caricature mode here. It took a lot of time to realise that many exceptional leaders, according to this profile, were not charismatic at all.
Perhaps charismatic leadership today has a different profile. His or her inspiration comes from being emotionally and socially brilliant. The new charismatic leader sees and feels the social environment around them, they ‘get’ the people and the dynamics of the organization. He or she is a master of giving the stage to others, something that I have described as Backstage Leadership TM. Above all, the new charismatic leaders have less of a ‘push’ style (messaging) and are more able to ‘pull behaviours’ around him. They would be firm and visible but also far more humble.
I have a little rule of thumb about trust and charismatic leadership. The old type sometimes used to trigger feelings such as: ‘he is brilliant, great charisma, I am not sure I trust him, though’. The new type produces first a ‘I trust this guy’, and then other traits follow. Don’t look for any science behind my rule.
Perhaps new forms of charisma have been evolving all the time, but the death of charisma itself has been grossly exaggerated.
It reminds me of an old thing when I started medical school. Students used to repeat (and shout) the mantra; ‘we don’t want magisterial lectures’ – the ones given by chair professors in front of hundreds of people for sixty minutes or so, non stop, in huge amphitheatres, as was the norm. I always thought that the main reason for disliking them, was because we did not have good ‘magisters’. Had we had good ones, I personally would not have minded at all. I wonder whether the fall in grace of the charismatic leader (as has been the case in recent years) has to do with the scarcity of them. Just a thought.