Some of the most memorable and effective mid-managers and senior executives utilize leadership charisma to bolster their personal brands, build alliances, gain buy-in from team members and maximize their influence internally and externally to their organizations. But some of the most charismatic leaders have used these skills to wreak havoc. Think of Charles Manson, Adolf Hitler and David Koresh, to name a few. Today, many leadership pundits promote a style of “servant leadership” and empathy that better serves leaders in a modern world. In “Good to Great,” author James Collins calls it Level 5 Leadership. But all too often the “command-and-control” management style still dominates in many workplaces.
This more transactional and authoritative approach is both outdated and counterproductive in today’s organizational environments. Aspiring leaders are encouraged to reject such management styles that undermine collaboration, flexibility, inspiration and humility. Rather, we encourage others to seize the myriad benefits linked to genuine leadership charisma. Learning, practicing and embodying three specific attitudes or behavioral principles will help to get you there because they provide a tactical definition of what leadership charisma means in practice. They seem simple in principle but can be difficult to exhibit consistently without some conscious effort.
Be mindful of and practice three core attitudes in your interactions up and down the organizational chart and with external stakeholders:
- Attitude 1: Be engaged with those in front of you. The term “engagement” has somewhat staled, but here it means showing genuine interest in the success of the organization and individual team members. To clarify, interested and engaged people do not multitask, fidget with their smartphones or otherwise dilute their attention and participation during interactions and meetings. Instead, engaged leaders actively listen, proactively comment on others’ contributions and offer constructive feedback or insights to others’ questions.
- Attitude 2: Be solution-focused with those relying on you. Naysaying is easy to do—but undoing its often ugly and lingering effects is not. Using language and framing your contributions and feedback in constructive and supportive terms typically has a “charismatic effect” on others. People like, respect and gravitate toward those who help to build momentum for success versus slowing it down.
- Attitude 3: Be relatable with those around you. People want to be heard and understood, but active listening itself is not always enough. Leaders must communicate and interact in ways that best match the target audience. Showing humility, spontaneity and openness equates to being relatable. And constituents bestow credibility and trust to those with whom they can relate.
Leadership charisma does not mean being “larger than life,” a “dynamic speaker,” or having a strong “executive presence.” Rather, leaders fundamentally stand out in their ability to focus on others and not on themselves. This “service to others” is at the core of genuine charisma—it is inspirational in its message and its ability to bring people together to realize a common goal and share in that success. Charisma coupled with substance and empathy is a very powerful tool.
Keith Kefgen and James Houran are the CEO and managing director of Aethos Consulting Group, a hospitality-focused human capital advisory, and the authors of "Loneliness of Leadership." Kefgen can be contacted at [email protected] and Houran can be reached at [email protected]