Since the 1980’s we’ve seen the rise of the charismatic leader. Charismatic leaders are often charming, delightful, fun and can be very exciting to work with, usually for a short time. They can also be self-serving, exhausting to report to, and depending upon the business context, can be very destructive.
Charismatic leaders have a personal magic, which can arouse a special type of loyalty or enthusiasm. They are likely to have enviable stage presence and can be very attractive to others. They are also very self-preoccupied and tend toward narcissism.
From psychologytoday.com, narcissism is characterized by “a grandiose sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, a need for excessive admiration, and the belief that one is unique and deserving of special treatment.” So, it is no surprise that charisma and narcissism are positively correlated.
Sound like anyone you know? Okay, hint, think big white house.
Truthfully, if we have been in the workforce in the past 30 years, most of us have reported to a charismatic (and narcissistic) leader, at one time or other, especially if we work for a publicly traded company. Whatever your experience, it turns out that over time, charismatic leaders are not the most effective.
Not surprisingly, humble leaders fare much better from a performance standpoint.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of humble is, “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance.”
Recent research on organizational performance, including financial performance of companies headed by leaders whose traits classified as “humble”, are more effective and successful. They leave companies better off than they found them and often do so pretty quietly, with little fanfare or public knowledge.
“Humble leaders prioritize the organization’s success ahead of their own. In a Journal of Management study of 105 computer software and hardware firms, humble CEOs were found to have reduced pay disparity between themselves and their staff. They dispersed their power. They hired more diverse management teams, and they give staff the ability to lead and innovate. Humble leaders have less employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and they improve the company’s overall performance.” (The Washington Post, Ashley Merryman, 12.8.2016, see link below).
For years I have used personality inventories along with multi-rater (360-degree) instruments as a fairly standard part of the leadership development work I do. As many leaders need to expand their self-awareness, better knowledge of their personality can be extremely helpful in understanding their own and other’s experience with their leadership.
More and more I am using the Hogan Personality Inventory because of the rigorous research used in developing it. Recently I attended a session they offered on The Rise of the Humble Leader. It was a great session, very illuminating. It led to this post and it made me start to think about the best way to manage charismatic leaders (especially C-level).
The fastest way to change it would be to create more equitable pay structures (executives didn’t always get paid the way they do now). But this won’t happen soon. From my practical experience, if charismatic leaders want to improve their organizational performance, they should surround themselves with humble leaders, who are not afraid to challenge them. Then they need to listen to them. It will feel exhausting, but I am pretty confident it will have a worthwhile ROI.
In the meantime, let’s start looking for and promoting more humble leaders!
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 20 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.