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Excessive Charisma Can Be Bad for Leadership, According to Science

Do you consider yourself a charismatic leader? Most people would probably say yes or at least they would hope that they’re seen as charismatic. However, according to science, being seen as an overly charismatic leader might not be such a good thing.

That’s because people who are seen as highly charismatic leaders are also often perceived to be ineffective leaders. This was the finding of a study recently published in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,”

It turns out that the same skills it takes to rally a team and turn a vision into a functioning business aren’t necessarily the same skills you need to actually run the nuts-and-bolts part of the business.

To get to their rather counterintuitive conclusion, researchers from Kaiser Leadership Solutions, Ghent University, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Antwerp studied 800 business leaders from around the world and from various levels of management. They not only spoke with the leaders themselves, but also their subordinates, their peers and their superiors.

Leaders were given a score based on their perceived charisma and effectiveness to run their respective companies. A leader’s perceived effectiveness did rise along with their perceived charisma to a certain point. However, once their perceived charisma passed that point, their perceived effectiveness actually dropped.

The drop off point is just above what would be considered as average charisma for an adult, so people with average or just above average charisma are seen to be effective leaders while people with way above average charisma are seen as less effective.

Leaders were asked to grade their own charisma and effectiveness and, unsurprisingly, the leaders who graded themselves as highly charismatic also graded themselves as being highly effective leaders.

Strategic vs Operational

businesswoman thinking

This perception that people with lots of charisma are seen as being less effective has to do with the difference between strategic thinking and operational thinking. To put it simply, highly charismatic people are able to think about the big picture strategic stuff when it comes to their business, but less charismatic people are better at thinking about the operational day-to-day running of their business.

The researchers said this also goes the other way. People who are perceived to be uncharismatic are also perceived to be ineffective, as their strategic thinking isn’t up to par, meaning they tend not to focus on the long-term planning of their businesses and they don’t encourage enough innovation.

To be seen as both charismatic and effective, leaders have to hit that sweet spot where people view them as charismatic, but also effective.

The researchers identified four elements that can easily get out of hand in highly charismatic people and negatively affect their leadership abilities.

  • Self-Confidence - An abundance of self-confidence can become overconfidence and eventually turn into narcissism.

  • Persuasiveness - If a person is too persuasive, it can lead to them being manipulative instead.

  • Enthusiasm - Too much enthusiasm at all times can lead to people thinking you’re an attention seeker and a distraction.

  • Creativity - Being too creative can lead to people seeing you as eccentric and lead them to questioning your ability to lead.

Being Less Charismatic

coworkers with leader

If a leader is highly charismatic and wants to be seen as also highly effective, it would be good for them to tone down their charisma a bit. If everyone around you keeps telling you that you’re very charismatic, then you may want to try:

  • Joining a business coaching program that can show you how to concentrate on the operational side of things more.

  • Enrolling in personal development programs that can teach you how to be more self-aware and improve self-regulation.

  • Gather feedback about your actual effectiveness from your peers, subordinates and superiors.

Less charismatic leaders can also join personal and business development programs that will teach them to be more strategic in their long-term thinking and encourage more innovation in their businesses.

As hard as it is to believe, having too much charisma can be seen as a bad thing if it means people also see you as being less effective. If you want to be perceived as both, you’ll need to learn to temper your charisma.

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