Transformational Leadership Part 2: Who’s Got Charisma?

Transformational Leadership

Charisma is a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects.”
— Marianne Williamson

It’s easy for anyone to point to a leader that’s got charisma. What is more challenging, though, is defining the trait itself.  You can’t really put your finger on that certain quality that enables leaders to attract followers. Some describe it as a personal magic or magnetic charm. Many see charisma as the WOW factor that gives leaders their booming popularity.

The presence of the charismatic leader in today’s business world is apparent more than ever.  Crises bring out charismatic qualities in leaders. Often at times, we glorify charismatic CEOs in the limelight for driving success in their organizations, but should this success be placed on the shoulders of one man or woman? Furthermore, is the charismatic leader really the answer for organizations facing obstacles in times of crisis?

Transformational Leadership+ Charisma
Many people believe charisma and transformational leadership go hand in hand. The truth is, however, that charismatic leaders do not necessarily transform organizations. Sure, charisma will play a part in leaders gaining buy-in from followers, but it isn’t this buy-in that drives change within a company. The leader that empowers, develops, and inspires followers will transform an organization. Charisma is only part of the transforming process.

The Charismatic CEO  
Many organizations seek to hire those who exhibit charisma, especially in a time of crisis. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when leaders get hired simply because of their magnetic personality; organizations may find themselves in trouble.  What attracts followers to highly charismatic leaders is the leader’s ability to appeal to their dissatisfaction and target their emotions when employees are vulnerable and searching for a “savior”. This generates devotion to the CEO, rather than to the organization itself. In turn, this creates short term positive effects for an organization once the CEO is replaced.

The Transforming CEO
In comparison to the charismatic CEO, the transforming CEO will act differently in a time of crisis.  The transforming CEO will prove himself or herself by being dynamic, responsible, and responsive throughout times of turmoil.  A leader’s goal is to keep the organization unified and continue inspiring employees to work towards the company’s vision. Furthermore, he or she will work alongside employees to find solutions to problems because, let’s face it, one human is incapable of solving such complex problems.  For these leaders, empowerment is a two-way street.  Seeing his or her employees inspired and engaged will in turn motivate the transforming CEO.

Professor Michael A. Roberto from Bryant University explored the principles of Adaptive Leadership in his course on Transformational Leadership.  The transformational CEO upholds these principles during times of change for organizations.

  1. Identify challenge-leader confronts all problems head on and does not  avoid problems
  2. Regulate level of stress-leader remains calm during a crisis because stress is contagious
  3. Focus attention on key issues-leader does not let employees get sidetracked or caught up on minor problems and keeps attention on the most important issues
  4. Give work back to people at a rate they can stand-leader understands that excessive workloads cause stress and produce mediocre results
  5. Protect the voices of leaders without authority-leader amplifies voices that have new approaches to challenges, new ideas, and different perspectives

By inspiring employees to confront problems, stay on task, and voice their opinions, leaders are setting their organization up for transformation in times when they need it most. This type of transformation starts at the surface with charisma, but then dives deeper to the core of an organization where values and principles motivate and inspire all members of an organization to work towards their vision to attain success.