Traits of a Leader

Charismatic Leadership: Hypnotic Effect

Akhil Shahani asked:

“Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and turn and dream

of what I need”

Bonnie Tyler, Holding Out For A Hero

Charismatic leadership is all about a superhero act. In an article titled “What exactly is charisma?” published in Fortune on January 15, 1996, Patricia Sellers says, “Charisma is a tricky thing. Jack Kennedy oozed it – but so did Hitler and Charles Manson. Con artists, charlatans, and megalomaniacs can make it their instrument as effectively as the best CEO’s, entertainers, and Presidents. Used wisely, it’s a blessing; indulged, it can be a curse. Charismatic visionaries lead people ahead, and sometimes astray.”

Practitioners of charismatic leadership have a firm belief that they can lead followers by unleashing their personal charm and grace. You can recognize one by the way he or she interacts with others – making each person feel like the most special on the planet!

While charismatic leadership is most often employed in the political arena where a large number of people have to be influenced within a short time, using little or no personal contact, it can be applied equally in a business situation. The leader seeks a “fan following”, and a devotion among followers which is usually absent from other forms of leadership. You can think of at least a couple of U.S. Presidents who had an almost hypnotic effect.

Charismatic leadership involves a great deal of theatrical behavior. A charismatic leader is a persuasive speaker, and a master of body language. Charismatic leaders are great at reading the occasion, and will tailor their behavior to suit the mood. At the same time, they are willing to take personal risk and make sacrifices in order to build their own credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of their followers. Once their leadership is established, they will try to carve a distinct identity for their group of followers, and build an image of superiority for it. At the same time, these leaders identify themselves so strongly with the group that the group and the leader become nearly synonymous.

Academics have identified the following four stages of charismatic leadership:

Creating a new vision: Charismatic leaders are able to assess unfulfilled needs and opportunities in their environment and project their vision for a future without any shortcomings.

Articulating the vision: The leader will be able to communicate his belief in the vision to his followers and convince them of its viability.

Building trust: The next phase of charismatic leadership involves engendering trust among group members and securing their commitment.

Achieving the vision: The leader will set a personal example and empower others in order to sustain motivation so that the vision can be realized.

It may sound strange, but charismatic leadership is not necessarily an inborn trait. It can be learned and perfected, usually by watching the actions of other charismatic leader role models and modifying behavior in certain ways. No wonder this is the subject of many books and programs on offer at

It is important to note that charismatic leadership can be a double edged sword. It all boils down to the motives of the leader. Charismatic leaders can be a bit insincere, more concerned about themselves than their followers. Such a tendency towards narcissism can do a great deal of damage to organizations. On the other hand, if their heart is in the right place, charismatic leaders can work magic like no other.


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