Must Know Characteristics of Charismatic Leadership

En agitator (An agitator), oil painting by Erik Henningsen 1899. Charisma is an important leadership style, But its hard to understand since most every one we meet are bland personalities, people we shortly forget. But the charismatic leader is different —they leave a lasting impact.
For charismatic leadership, charisma is an important element to master. Not only is it a critically important leadership style, but it is a key to successful transformational leadership.
But what is charisma? And how to you become more charismatic? Find out.

Charismatic Leadership Definitions 

While charisma is extremely powerful, it is difficult to learn and hard to define as the following quote illustrates.

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description of hard-core pornography; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” — Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter

Charisma, like pornography, has an element of the undefinable — it’s something one must experience. Still, many have made the attempt to define it.

“Charisma is a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects.” — Marianne Williamson

“We need less posturing and more genuine charisma. Charisma was originally a religious term, meaning “of the spirit” or “inspired.” It’s about a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects.” — Marianne Williamson

“You have got charisma! Becca!: What’s that? It’s a special quality of leadership that captures the popular imagination and inspires allegiance and devotion.” — Movie: Son in Law (1993)

“Charisma is a fancy name given to the knack of giving people your full attention.” — Robert Brault

Alex Law: “I mean, my first impression, and they’re rarely wrong, is that you have none of the qualities that we normally seek in a prospective flatmate. I’m talking here about things like presence, charisma, style and charm, and I don’t think we’re asking too much, I don’t think we’re being unreasonable.” — Shallow Grave, Movie (1994)

“Charm is charisma in the lady.” — M. Johannsen

 Charismatic Leadership Theory

“Pont de Bir-Hakeim and view on the 16th Arrondissement of Paris 140124 1” by DXR – Own work. One might say, charismatic leadership is like a bridge that allows leaders to move people from where they are, to where the charismatic leader thinks they should should be.

House (1976) came up with a theory of how leaders project charisma. There are six of these important characteristics.

1. Project An Image Of Competence



Impression management is easy for many bosses since they surround themselves with public relations experts and press agents, individuals skilled at publicity and spin. But charismatic individuals need no such intermediaries.



2. Appeal To Hidden Aspirations, Fears Or Needs Of The Followers

It is unfortunately a fact of life that those with charisma can arouse either negative emotions or positive ones. 

It takes little skill to make people afraid, for fear is one of the most basic emotions. For example, a leader can use a terrorist incident to rally people to action.

But it’s much harder to create a positive emotional appeal, but it can be done. For example, you can create hope, as was done in the 2008 presidential campaign by Barrack Obama.

The image was a widely distributed version of Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster, featuring the word “hope.” Other versions used the words “change” and “progress.” Image by: Shepard Fairey3. When You Have Charisma, You Can Set High Expectations



“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy, former American President




Charismatic individuals are also good at defining expectations. 

For example, Pepsi CEO Donald Kendall would never miss a chance to hoist a Pepsi in public, and he expects his employees to behave the same way. — Louis,  (1981), page 76.

4. Engage in Role Modeling

In some respects, those with charisma are surrounded by people who act like children; complex children, but still children. If you are charismatic, people will look at your behavior to determine what’s acceptable. They hang on every word. They watch every action. They look into your eyes for hints on how your thoughts will go and they watch your face to read intentions.

5. Seek to Arouse Motivation


Charismatic leaders manipulate peoples’ motivations. An example of this was Adolf Hitler, who was known for using rallies to motivate followers.

6. Be a Persuasive Speaker

I am firmly convinced that the art of persuasive speaking is mostly dead. It dies when students learn how to imitate their boring professors. You know the ones who can even put an insomniac to sleep. However, if one has this gift (a learned gift of course) one can accomplish a great deal.

In the 1970’s John Debutt, a former CEO of AT&T snapped the company out of its slump, and he did it largely on the strength of his considerable charisma. He and tow other top executives went on the grand tour of the U.S., giving pep talks to thousands of Bell System managers. “We talked to people at mass meetings to give them confidence,” he recalled, “and also to let them know what this new management team looked like, and what we sounded like.” We let them ask anything they wanted to ask, and we’d answer them. Within a few years the Bell System had not only overcome its service problems, but had surpassed all previous records for trouble free service. Louis (1981), page 96-7.

7. Project Self-confidence

“I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt.”  — M. Johannsen

The leadership experts cannot seem to agree what traits are associated with leadership. However, one trait making it into most lists is self-confidence.


Bruce J. Avolio, Tracy C. Gibbons (1988) Developing Transformational Leaders: A Life Span Approach, in Charismatic Leadership: The Elusive Factor in Organizational Effectiveness by Jay A. Conger, Rabindra N. Kanuggo and Associates 
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Louis, Arthur (1981). The Tycoons. New York: Simon and Shuster.

House, R. J. (1976). “A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership.” In J. G. Hunt and L. L. Larson. (beds.), Leadership: The Cutting Edge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois.

Resources on Charisma and Charismatic Leadership

Do You Want Too Be a Charismatic Leader

If you want to be a great leader charisma is an important technique to master. You might have heard that charisma cannot be developed. That is not true. Business mentor Simon Reynolds has written a short article presenting key tips on how to be more charismatic. Do you want to learn how?

Charisma in MNCs: Is it Needed?

If you happen to be the alpha sitting behind the mahogany desk in a large bureaucracy (i.e. CEO running an MNC), you might not have to worry so much about being charismatic. 

After all, you have the authority given to you by the position and that is more than enough to manage the status quo. According to Jim Collins, what you need at the top is an architect, not a charismatic leader.

Charisma in MNCs: What About the Bottomline?

Do charismatic CEOs outperform their bland managerial counterparts? May by not, especially if you are judging them from a narrow perspective of economic profit and loss.  Check out this article in the Sloan Management Review

What Is Charismatic Leadership?

What’s important if you wanted to be charismatic? Is it just a trick of genetics? Is it a product of mental sweat and continuous efforts? Be sure to find out more.

Leadership Skill Development