The Dark Side of Charisma

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic – Harvard Business Review

via The Dark Side of Charisma – Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic – Harvard Business Review.

Most people think charisma is as vithow-be-charismatic_590x337al to leadership as it is to rock stars or TV presenters and, unfortunately, they are right. In the era of multimedia politics, leadership is commonly downgraded to just another form of entertainment and charisma is indispensable for keeping the audience engaged. However, the short-term benefits of charisma are often neutralized by its long-term consequences. In fact, there are big reasons for resisting charisma:

1. Charisma dilutes judgment: There are only three ways to influence others: force, reason, or charm. Whereas force and reason are rational (even when we are “forced” to do something, we obey for a good reason) charm is not. Charm is based on emotional manipulation and, as such, it has the ability to trump any rational assessment and bias our views. Charismatic leaders influence by charm rather than reason and when they run out of charm they tend to revert to force (think Jim Jones, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, or your favorite brutal dictator).

2. Charisma is addictive: Leaders capable of charming their followers become addicted to their love. After the initial honeymoon effect is over, they continue to crave high approval ratings, which distracts them from their actual goals. Followers, on the other hand, become addicted to the leader’s charisma, reinforcing displays of populism and perceiving unpopular decisions as deal-breakers. The result is a reciprocal dependence that encourages both parts to distort reality in order to prolong their “high.” Typically, charismatic leaders will remain deluded even after their followers have woken up. Tony Blair will forever think that the invasion of Iraq was a moral triumph, and Saddam Hussein (who relied on charisma for years) was absolutely convinced that he had served his country with dignity and integrity. But ask most people in Britain or Iraq what they think, and you will hear a very different story.

3. Charisma disguises psychopaths: Although you don’t have to be a psychopath to be charismatic, many psychopaths are charming, and the main reason for this is that their charm hides their antisocial tendencies, so they manage to get away with it. Egocentricity, deceit, manipulativeness, and selfishness are key career advancers in both politics and management, and many leaders rise to the top motivated by their own problems with authority. Although being in charge is a good antidote to having a boss, if you cannot be managed you can probably not manage others either — this is why Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump spent very little time working for others, but too much time managing others.

4. Charisma fosters collective narcissism: If you think Barack Obama is charismatic try asking the average Republican. People are charmed by others only when they share their core values and principles. In line, charisma facilitates ideological self-enhancement: our adoration for someone who expresses our own beliefs (usually better than we are capable of doing ourselves) is a socially acceptable way to love and flatter, not only ourselves, but also our “tribe” (e.g., Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, etc.). In other words, we would not find someone charismatic if their vision didn’t align with ours, so the only transformation charismatic leaders can attain is to unite their followers by turning each of them into a more radical version of themselves: the only way of being fully committed to a cause is to be fully opposed to another.

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About Dave Tomlinson

Commercially-minded leader with wide background in finance and business. I like to think of myself as more than just a finance professional and most of my career has been spent in change management of one sort or another. I am currently focused on working out how the new reformed NHS is going to impact on us all and how we stop this latest development being another of those grand failed experiments we all know and despise...
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