Don’t be fooled – charisma is an overrated quality in transformation

We are all attracted to charismatic leaders. Look at the area of politics where the ability to perform on television etc has become the main assessment mechanism. Sadly we have yet to learn collectively that the ability to perform well in the media is no accurate measure of competency in office.

What about leadership in organisations? Is charisma a critical competence when leading transformation?

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins researched companies that made the transformation from being good companies to being great companies, making comparisons with similar companies that remained good and also those that appeared to make the transformation to greatness but then fell back.

He concluded that larger-than-life celebrity leaders are negatively correlated with the transformation to greatness. Three pieces of evidence stand out for me:

  1. Talented ego-centric leaders do deliver significant leaps in performance but these are not sustained in later years (performance falls back), often due to a lack of succession and consistency.
  2. Organisations led by charismatic leaders tend to operate with a genius at the top supported by many helpers whereas the great companies developed a balanced senior team who delivered strength and succession.
  3. Charismatic leaders tend to deter their staff from sharing the brutal facts about the organization so the truth is not spoken or heard.

I must admit that I am a sucker for the charismatic leader (provided their world view is largely similar to mine), however it is surely time for us to get behind those leaders who might be more bland but who are really building organisations with the best potential and longevity.

Andrew Kearns

Hartswood Management Ltd

Removing the roadblocks to delivering real improvement

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