Do business leaders need charisma?

Richard Branson - charisma

Is personal charm and charisma essential when steering a successful venture or does it have little impact on overall results? Two business leaders take opposing views

Alice Bentinck Entrepreneur First - charisma debateYes says Alice Bentinck, co-founder of Entrepreneur First

I back the leaders of the businesses of tomorrow. Whether they have a proposition or not is immaterial. What is essential is that they are brilliant at what they do and can convince others in their team to believe in their mission, because no individual succeeds on their own.

Leaders with charisma are able to inspire action within their workforce. Whether that’s networking to cultivate new prospects or engaging in dialogue with investors, shareholders and customers, the charismatic leader has a magnetism that helps create a valuable and necessary proposition.

The confusion comes when people believe charisma is innate. It’s not, and it can be learnt. People often defer to stereotypes, thinking that ‘techies’ can’t possibly have charisma – but look at Bill Gates. If you break down charisma into its core principles, they can all be learnt.

Whether it’s through adopting a mindset that fosters a genuine interest, finding new reserves of energy, listening to people’s concerns, or treating each individual as uniquely special, these behaviours all exude empathy, which, in turn, deliver the message that you are an attractive person to do business with.

Charisma isn’t about Obama-level rhetoric. It’s the finishing touch that can elevate a good business in a crowded marketplace. That’s why leaders need to think of it as an essential skill to nurture.

James Brook Strength Partnership - charisma debate No says James Brook is co-founder and joint managing director of Strengths Partnership

Charisma is all about a leader’s charm, confidence, likeability, and power in the eyes of their employees. Like any other leadership strength, it is only powerful in helping the organisation succeed if used in the right way.

When used with caution and care, charisma can help a leader energise employees to support a particular vision, attract a following and build strong relationships – influencing employees and key stakeholders alike. Both [Sir] Richard Branson and Carolyn McCall [easyJet’s chief executive] are great examples of leaders – they demonstrate the power of charisma when used properly.

However, charisma also has a dark side when overused or used selfishly to advance personal interests and autocratic power. When employed in these ways, it can undermine trust with employees, customers and the society at large, as followers discover the leader is more interested in themselves over and above the company’s success.

The leader then loses support and influence. Leaders can succeed without charisma if they use their natural strengths to build trust and influence with stakeholders. We have worked with ‘servant leaders’, strong introverts who lead from the back and put others in the spotlight.

Employees follow them not because of their charisma, but because of respect for their humility, delegation, and calm, supportive style.
James Brook is a member of IoD Central London

Is charisma a vital attribute for business leaders?  Let us know your views here

About author

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker is deputy editor at Think Publishing. Previously she worked as a features writer and sub-editor for Director magazine

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