Charisma’s black eye

black eye 2Recently I was discussing research on charisma which showed that people who exhibit emotional expressiveness were rated highest in charisma by others. Further research showed that people could be taught this very skill, and improve it by spending time delivering speeches in front of the mirror, watching their face and hand gestures, and recording their voice to improve inflection. One person responded that the difficulty with teaching people to be charismatic, was teaching them this skill without enabling them to become like Hitler.

This is something increasing numbers of professional coaches are selling their services to teach charisma to business leaders worry about. With the rise of appealingly and strong but eventually destructive leaders in the twentieth century, charisma has gotten a black eye. People who want to work a crowd can become skilled in replicating facial expressions, voice and movements to convey strong feelings. They can learn to use settings to maximize their appearance of presence. And it does work; at least it worked well for one of the leaders rated as the most charismatic speakers of the 20th century. Adolf Hitler spent hours mastering the delivery of speeches that drew crowds like a magnet. Before he did his ideas were largely ignored.

One course of action used by charismatic leadership skill peddlers is to rename this the goods they sell. “Transformational leadership” is one of the new monikers used for those who offer to build leaders that can induce others to follow their vision in today’s businesses. This kind of leadership also includes mastering skills to determine what vision should be, and to choose the best method to achieve that vision. But it is all based on the ability to sell that vision. Therefore, behaving and speaking in a charismatic manner are the cornerstones of transformational leadership.

Another tactic is to shift the focus from charisma in politics to business. Neo-charisma is aimed at corporations. The classic idea of charisma is the leader that arises in a country in crisis, a country out of the clutches of runaway inflation and massive unemployment. There charismatic leaders promises better life, an economic turn-around. And the cost is current sacrifice.

Let’s look at the reason that charismatic leadership in business has become so important. The growth of lost cost competition has made the prospect of maintaining profits increasingly dire. Companies need to have their employees producing more, without paying more. They need an economic turn-around. People are more willing to sacrifice and spend more time spent at work for a charismatic leader. This is the ideal way for the board of directors wants to sell their vision for bringing a company out of pending crisis. Maybe there is not that much difference between the classic idea of charisma and the new one.

Antonkias, J. Fenley, M. and Liechti, S. Can Charisma Be Taught? Tests of Two Interventions. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2011, Vol. 10, No. 3, 374–396.
Barling, J. Weber, T. Kelloway, E. K.. Effects of transformational leadership training on attitudinal and financial outcomes: A field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 81(6), Dec 1996, 827-832
Friedman, H. S. Prince, L. M. Riggio, R. E and DiMatteo, M. R. Understanding and Assessing Nonverbal Expressiveness: The Affective Communication Test, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1980, Vol. 39, No. 2, 333-351
Macias, A. “Why Hitler was such a successful orator” Business Insider. May 13, 2015, 1:35 PM  
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