This is the “Chicken or the Egg?” Argument of Leadership

“Charisma is the result of effective leadership, not the other way around.”— Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus; Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge

When we think of leadership, invariably we tend to think of people with magnetic personalities and towering charisma. They may give inspirational speeches and have moments of greatness. Charisma is like art—hard to define, but everyone knows it when they see it. But, is having “it” truly necessary to be a great business leader? There is no question that charisma doesn’t hurt, but great bosses know that actions speak far louder than words.

You don’t have to make flashy headlines to be a leader. One of the country’s greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was a gangly and unattractive (some say ugly) country boy. He dressed terribly and was known for telling odd country yarns to get his point across. On a charisma scale of 1 to 10, he topped out at a three. Today, in the world of social media and television, he probably wouldn’t win an election for county commissioner.

Yet, with a pen in his hand, he may have been the most charismatic writer this country has ever produced. Moreover, as far as his leadership qualities are concerned, it was the day-to-day tactics of consensus building, delegating authority, and managerial excellence that were the true reason for his success.

But, is charisma necessary to lead people today?

In the end, the ultimate test of a leader’s skill is in accomplishments achieved, not people charmed. Sure, rock-star CEOs like Jack Welch and Steve Jobs could captivate a packed room, but a mild-mannered personality combined with ruthless drive and efficiency has worked out fine for Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

Personal charisma has never been a substitute for superior management skills, whereas competency and success will certainly have people taking notice regardless of personal appeal. But, being in a supervisor position still requires instruction and interaction with subordinates. How does a professional leader translate competency and strategic vision into the ability to lead others? That is the difference between personal charisma and executive charisma. And the good news is that executive charisma is a skill that can be developed and improved upon.

Business experts define executive charisma as “the ability to gain effective responses from others by using aware actions and considerate civility in order to get useful things done.”  What this means is that, when the inherent authority of your leadership position is combined with the success your strategic ideas have gained, simply treating people in a professional and respectful manner works wonders for getting your team to follow your lead.

The building blocks of executive charisma and leadership

The foundation for developing executive charisma starts with dependability, confidence, and honesty.


If employees can depend on their boss to:

  • Act in an ethical manner
  • Treat others fairly
  • And to expect of themselves what they expect in others …

then that boss has gone a long way to creating executive charisma. There is no greater way to ensure the loyalty and focus of your employees than to stand by the core values and vision you wish to present.


If you don’t believe in your ideas or your team, why should those who work under you? While confidence levels vary over time, the team should never feel that what they are working toward is pointless or destined to fail. It is up to the executive to provide the team with the unwavering sense that the team, through whatever method, will be able to find a solution.


A forthright and direct boss will get much better results than one who keeps the staff in the dark. Bosses must be especially clear on what the expectations are for the employees. In a stressful and fast-paced environment, such as most workplaces, an unpleasant but direct truth is much preferred over a confusing and misleading sugarcoating. The only way to overcome most challenges is to face them head on. A leader is the one who identifies the problem and sets the team to fixing it.  ,

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. The ability to get things done is the one common trait among successful leaders. By focusing on dependability, confidence, and honesty, even a boss who doesn’t have dazzling charisma can count on the loyalty and excitement from the team.

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