The Charismatic Leader

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I had an interesting conversation yesterday with two intelligent female professionals in a business consulting firm in town who had come over to chat with me a little bit about a particular company who had retained them to put together a detailed strategic plan which involves a potential offer to investors. In the context of that conversation, we talked about the founder and CEO of the company and how unbelievably all-inspiring he is as a leader.

Frankly, I’d love to be able to tell you about their client company and that particular person, but it would clearly be outside the bounds of my permission in this blog. The consulting firm, however, was J. Robinson Group, LLC in Orlando, Florida.

Nonetheless, there are some elements of the conversation that I want to share with you as we discussed the elements of what makes a leader a real leader: what some people have dubbed a charismatic leader.

This blog is a short discussion about five critical elements of what makes a leader a “charismatic leader.”

1. A clear and decisive vision. It is virtually impossible for a leader to be charismatic if a leader does not have a clear and decisive vision about what he or she wants to achieve. It is the vision, itself, along with the other attributes I’ll discuss in a second, which allow responders to picture it and see it for themselves. Absent that vision, absent that target, absent the golden ring, the leader has very little likelihood of recruiting followers.

2. Crispness of communication. No leader can manifest that vision without skill in articulating and communicating it. The leader needs not only to be able to see it clearly in his or her own mind, but also needs to be able to clearly pronounce it, articulate it, picture it with words, gestures and feelings, so that everyone else gets it too.

3. Passion. I have listened to interviews with countless CEOs on CNBC who might be extremely effective CEOs, but are not charismatic leaders. What’s missing, most often, is the passion for the subject. Who doesn’t know in the world of entrepreneurism that Steve Jobs challenged Mr. Scully to do something more important with his life than selling sugar water?  Who doesn’t know that Bill Gates left Harvard because he feared losing the opportunity to have a major influence on the development of the personal computer generation?  A charismatic leader is one who not only has a clear vision of the outcome and the ability to articulate it, but is also impassioned about how important it is to each compatriot, as well as to their families and to the world at large.

4. Inspirational. When you combine clear articulation with passion, you almost always get inspiration, but not always. Being inspirational is the process where you can join your words and your passion with a call to action that rouses others to embrace your quest. There is a call to action implicit in inspirational communication which is over and above simple communication. The charismatic leader is someone who so clearly articulates a vision of the future with immense passion for its importance, that anyone listening–called to bear arms–has to step up and follow.

5. Humility of Service.  Finally, at least for purposes of this particular blog, is the humility of service. There are effective inspirational leaders, who are, at heart, arrogant or at minimum, self-absorbed. And then there are those whose sense of self is captured by their own mission. They are not arrogantly directive, and they humbly serve. In the absence of a sense of service, a leader is effective if not charismatic. However, when you add on humility and the other centeredness that humility provokes, an effective inspirational leader becomes a charismatic one.

Obviously, whole books can be written on this subject with countless examples along the way. But, as I think about yesterday’s conversation, I thought that it was appropriate to share these thoughts and observations with you in real time and at whatever level they might be relevant. 

With thanks to Mary and Susan from J. Robinson.   I hope my thoughts on our conversation are helpful.