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Updated: Nov 1, 2023

The ability to instill in followers such a deep level of commitment and trust that they are inspired toward higher levels of performance and professional satisfaction is often associated with charismatic leaders. But is it sustainable?

In my recent blog Leadership Requires Emotional Intelligence, I discussed leading with the heart and how personality and fundamental characteristics of a person bleeds into leadership style. It begs the question, if a charismatic person becomes a leader will they be a charismatic leader? It leads to the bigger question as it relates to leadership: Is charisma a personal characteristic of the leader or is it an attribution based on relational processes?

In the scientific literature, charisma is conceptualized as an attribution based on how we perceive a leader’s behavior. In other words, charisma exists in the eye of the beholder.

Charisma is a fuzzy construct in the scientific literature. It’s difficult to independently measure charisma as an attribute of an effective leader. If the leader moved people it would be difficult to attribute it to charisma alone. There may be many traits that a leader possesses that moves people. Charisma may be among a constellation of personal characteristics of a leader (leadership DNA) that influences people by affecting their feelings and opinions, and ultimately their behaviors.

Of course, there is also the too-much-of-a-good-thing (TMGT) effect and the shelf life of charismatic leaders. Too much of anything is not a good thing. Since charismatic leaders tend to engage in higher levels of leader-member exchanges there becomes more contingent reward leader behavior which over time have been found to hinder a leader’s effectiveness. It’s certainly a good argument to not stay in one place for too long a period of time.

Transformational leaders go to great lengths to build trust. They put themselves out there. Body and soul. They lead with the heart and senses (aka being “real”) to create a deep sense of identification and loyalty - specifically with respect to their vision. They use recognition and rewards to motivate and they leave everything “on the field” at the end of the day.

But transformation means change. And change usually means resistance. Not only in the social sector. The question, then, is "Can a leader who leads with the heart and senses build the capacity to create a culture that is willing and eager to change?" Successful organizations in any industry possess the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. That leads to the final question circling back to charismatic leaders: "When they leave, will what they built remain?"

That’s how I measure leader effectiveness. I look at what happened after the leader left.

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