Leadership Charisma

Is it for Real?
by Dave Goranson
Goranson Consulting, Inc.

There are many opinions on the topic of leadership and charisma—more than I can count, it seems. And many seem to assume that great leaders are born, not made. Really? If so, then how does a formerly infallible, 722.46 leaders are born, not made” holds true, then how can they later become ineffective? Let’s explore further......

Consider the qualities of a charismatic leader. This list could go on and on, but the following seem to come up most frequently:

  • Real, genuine
  • Consistent
  • Great communicator
  • Effective listener
  • Makes people feel important and appreciated
  • “Walks the walk”
  • Inspires through their actions
  • Exemplifies a high degree of passion and enthusiasm.

There’s also what appears to be irrefutable evidence, according to a number of surveys, of a direct link between strong, charismatic leadership and employee engagement. As a result, there is an important and obvious connection between great leaders and improved bottom-line performance of a company.

Leadership Charisma & Employee Engagement
A Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study surveyed approximately 90,000 employees in 18 countries. The highlights of that 2007-2008 study were as follows:

  • The study looked at 50 global companies over a year.
  • Companies with high employee engagement had a 19-percent increase in operating income and 28-percent growth in earnings per share.
  • Companies with low levels of engagement saw operating income drop more than 32 percent and earnings per share 11 percent.

Gallup Management Journal’s most recent Employee Engagement Index reported that 54 percent of U.S. employees are not engaged, another 17 percent are actively disengaged, while just 29 percent are engaged. This is very disappointing, to say the least, but not surprising. The estimated cost of disengaged employees? A staggering $250 to $350 billion per annum! The key takeaway from this study was that employee engagement largely starts with leadership at the top of the organization. Good leadership, good employee engagement and subsequently, a solid bottom line.

If these numbers are indeed true, then leadership is obviously failing and our results are declining. So, if the argument that great leaders are “born” were to hold true, wouldn’t our results maintain at a higher rate?

Sometimes great leaders begin to slide in their effectiveness. Once inspirational, engaging and able to move the meter on the bottom line, that same leader is now failing miserably and may even lose his or her job. I have personally seen this happen more than once in my work with organizations and their leaders. In each case, some very clear and distinct symptoms showed up.
Common Faults of Non-Charismatic Leaders

  • They stopped engaging and communicating with their people on a regular basis. Communication, understanding and connection with their people dropped dramatically as a result.
  • The same leader began spending more and more time in their office, behind their computer, tied up in meetings. This, in turn, made them seem inaccessible and, more importantly, unapproachable.
  • The leader began to lose touch with their people and the workplace environment/culture. In turn, their decisions suffered from a lack of information and understanding of their real needs and challenges, as well as those of the business.
  • They no longer walked the walk they expected and asked of their people. No longer were they leading by example. They were “leading by memo”—never a good thing.
  • Their energy, passion and enthusiasm had disappeared. And as a result, so did their employees.
  • Employee performance and engagement began to slip, and as a result, the bottom line began to suffer, sometimes drastically.

Why did these formerly great leaders suddenly take on these less productive habits and patterns? Answers varied, but the most common one I seemed to be hearing revolved around burnout, stress and feeling overwhelmed. Enormous pressure from the board and shareholders. A rapidly shifting and challenging business landscape that suddenly had them all feeling, as one leader put it, “like a dog chasing cars, and the cars were winning!”

In each case, they had lost their way and drifted so far from the real person and leader they used to be that I could hardly recognize a few of them. Not a good place to be, to say the least. If you are a leader and want to avoid slipping into these traps that rob you of your effectiveness and charisma, avoid these common faults and stick to the basics that made you a success. It takes diligence, hard work and self-discipline, but it can be done! iBi