P3 publishes selected extracts from the new book ‘What we mean when we talk about leadership’, by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove, published last month by Infinite Ideas. They are joint creators of the Thinkers50, the original global ranking of business thought leaders, and editors of the Financial Times Handbook of Management. This latest book is based on a range of interviews with various leaders, spoken to over the course of their careers.

A while ago we were running a session on leadership at an Ivy League business school. We showed a clip of someone. He looks like a leader, the group purred. We pushed them, but they struggled to go beyond this observation. The person in question was what would commonly be thought of as good looking. But we actually knew him, and he had no interest at all in being a leader. He looked like a leader, but he wasn’t one.

How a leader looks is closely tied to how we react to them. But it is not simply a question of being good looking. After all, many of the most influential leaders in history would not have fitted into that particular category. This brings us to that most elusive of leadership qualities: charisma, originally a Greek word, meaning gift.

Margarita Mayo of IE Business School, who has researched charismatic leadership over the last twenty years, believes that charismatic leaders gain influence by changing the way their followers think about themselves – and this goes for charismatic bosses and their employees as well. ‘Leadership charm enables people to feel better about themselves and their own potential,’ she says.

Mayo’s research suggests that charismatic leaders help their believers do the following things:

  • Build self-esteem The charismatic leader emphasizes the contribution of each individual and how he or she can play an important role in society and serve as a critical resource to the overall project. Followers undergo a personal transformation, beyond their own expectations, which leads to stronger self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Provide a sense of community Charismatic leaders keep us from feeling that we are alone, and help us see that we belong to a community that promotes change and transformation. This sense of belonging is a powerful tool that channels individual complaints and personal goals into an organized group that works for common values and the good of the collective. During crises, charismatic leaders provide the necessary social cohesion that lends itself to organized action.
  • Make sense of reality The charismatic leader can explain complex situations in simple and appealing language, avoiding technical jargon and bureaucratic labels. This unassuming rhetoric brings the leader psychologically close to his or her followers and serves as a personal reference. However, truly charismatic leaders still maintain a certain distance from their followers in order to be idealized as a symbol.
  • Visualize a positive future During times of change, things get worse before they get better. Thus, charismatic leaders know how to manage expectations and transform present challenges into future opportunities that will not only benefit the group but individuals. They draw a road map with a light at the end of the tunnel.

So, in leadership looks aren’t everything, but charisma – to some extent – is a vital ingredient if people are to follow you.

Extract from page 132 of 'What we mean when we talk about leadership'



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