by Nikki Owen

Charismatic leadership

Great people want to work for great leaders. The greatest differentiator among the organisations of the future will be the ability to build world-class capability and skills. The war for talent exists at all levels of an organisation.

Charismatic leaders affect both their followers and the organisational culture. They are capable of altering workforce attitudes, beliefs and motivation, making changes that are not easily implemented through conventional leadership approaches alone. It’s little wonder that the leader who possesses charisma also has a tendency to attract followers who are the crème de la crème of talent. In the same way that ‘money attracts money’, charisma produces a strong karmic reaction for both leader and worker.

The Cremer and Knippenberg report, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 2002, used scenario experiments, cross-sectional surveys and laboratory studies to prove that charismatic leaders had a stronger effect on cooperation than their non-charismatic counterparts.

Most leaders today appreciate the impact that a charismatic presence can have on their effectiveness. Charismatic leaders attract more publicity and more attention from outside groups as well as exerting a strong (albeit invisible) bond with their organisation’s workforce. Numerous studies and experiments have been conducted that prove conclusively that charismatic leaders are more successful.

Requirements for charismatic leaders

If you are seeking to become a charismatic leader, this checklist of key requirements will help guide your thoughts, actions and behaviours. Charismatic leaders must be able to

  • Make a realistic evaluation of the deficiencies and problem areas in a given situation
  • Appreciate the longer-term implications of not adopting new strategies for change and growth
  • Demonstrate a strong desire to change the status quo and remedy the identified problems
  • Be empathetic to the needs of their organisation’s workforce and show a real appreciation of people and their value
  • Formulate a vision that will lead to a future that is highly desirable for the organisation and the people who work within it
  • Communicate this vision in a motivational and inspiring manner that evokes strong positive feelings within others
  • Regularly repeat the vision from different perceptual positions and with flexibility to appeal and ‘touch’ the full spectrum of that workforce
  • Inspire commitment and hard work from the people who work within the organisation towards an aligned vision
  • Act as a role model at all times, and gain the confidence and respect of the workforce for both the leader and the mission
  • Demonstrate high levels of energy and self-confidence and exhibit high expectations in terms of their workforce’s capability and the results the organisation can achieve
  • Possess credibility as an expert in their field and demonstrate an unconventional and innovative style
  • Be willing to run certain personal risks, as and when the mission requires.

Charismatic leaders understand the important effects that they personally have on people and continually strengthen this powerful relationship.

  • They increase the inner rewards for their workforce so that people feel satisfied and valued. Examples of inner rewards include self-esteem, self-expression, stability and sense of belonging, and hope.
  • They provide an increased sensation of empowerment and self-esteem within the workforce, by expressing high expectations and high confidence in their people, both in individuals and in teams or departments of people.
  • They increase the value and benefits that people will achieve when the organisation has achieved its goal. This in turn increases the significance of the goal from the individual’s perspective.
  • They raise the degree of commitment felt by the workforce and ensure that individuals within the group are aware of their unique and vital contribution.

These behaviours help to create an instinctive, sometimes unconscious impression that the leader is connected to universal ‘transcendental’ powers. This strengthens the relationship between the workforce and leader, while fuelling the charismatic presence of that leader.


Charismatic leaders working in a corporate environment have an immense power to enrich the lives of the people that work for them. This leads to greater job satisfaction and ultimately improves performance and productivity.

Sadly, one of the less attractive traits of many charismatic leaders is a monstrous ego that can make them very self-centred. Rather than empower and persuade their people to do what they want they sometimes use the strength of their personality to force and bully others into submission. That’s why the leader with charisma automatically has a mantle of responsibility: a duty of care towards those who are affected by their leader’s vision and actions.