Is Charismatic Leadership Essential?

Charismatic leadership is leadership based on the leader's ability to communicate and behave in ways that reach followers on a basic, emotional way, to inspire and motivate. We often speak of some sports and political leaders as charismatic (or not) -- an example being John F. Kennedy.

It's difficult to identify the characteristics that make a leader "charismatic", but they certainly include the ability to communicate on a very powerful emotional level, and probably include some personality traits.

Developing "charisma" is difficult, if not impossible for many people, but luckily charismatic leadership is not essential to be an effective leader. Many other characteristics are involved in leading effectively, and there is significant evidence to indicate that it simply is not necessary to have this elusive charisma to lead others well.

Relying on charisma to lead also can be problematic. For example, there have been many charismatic leaders who lack other leadership characteristics and skills (e.g. integrity) and lead their followers into situations that turn out horribly -- think political leaders such as Stalin, Hitler, and even business leaders (Enron).

Finally, in organizations lead by charismatic leaders, there is a major problem regarding succession. What happens when a leader who relies on charisma leaves? Often the organization founders because the ability to lead rested with one person's charisma.

?