The Dark Side of Charisma

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When we think of charisma, we think of inspiring, bold, self-confident leaders who attract many followers who believe in their clear and compelling vision. But is there a danger in an organisation becoming too dependent on a particular person and of a cult of personality developing? We want to build organisations that thrive beyond one person and that understand that a whole team of people are leading the organisation. 

Some leadership researchers have noted the dark side of charisma:

1. Leaders sometimes go from confident to arrogant, from bold to excessive in their risk taking.

2. They begin to have delusions of their infallibility and begin to go from consultative to simply suppressing those dissenting views.

3. They alienate their followers because they begin to take all the credit for their success.

4. They fail to develop successors.

5. They begin to develop impulsive behaviour and  failure to acknowledge and learn from failure. 

Some leaders go way beyond the dark side and are examples of cults of personality, who cultivate hero worship among their followers. 

Professor Michael A. Roberto observes that "there are negative charismatic leaders who are described as having personalised power orientation: they want to get people devoted to them as individuals as opposed to an idea, concept, product or strategy. Positive charismatic leaders, on the other hand, have a socialised power orientation, which means that they seek internalisation of values in their followers. they're seeking devotion to ideas, not devotion to them as individuals." 

Some Reflection Questions:

1. How do you define 'charisma'? What are its ingredients and evidence?

2. What are the positive and negative aspects of charisma?

3. What are the dangers of being caught up by the charisma of a leader and neglecting to observe a person's character?

4. Jesus was clearly a charismatic leader. How did he use his charisma to influence people?

Other Articles

The Dark Side of Charismatic Leadership by Stephen Fogarty.

The Dark Side of Charisma by Tom Chamorro-Premuzic (HBR).