On Leadership: Can a person with average charisma or personality be a superior leader?

A new study shows UK managers admire celebrities more than their boss.

gahndiAccording to a 2003 article from the European Business Forum “A new study shows UK managers admire celebrities more than their boss. The ideal 21st century business leader should have the charisma of David Beckham, the negotiation skills of Kofi Annan and the financial acumen of Eddie George, according to a survey of over 500 business people. The research also shows that, in general, leadership and management skills are poorly perceived in the workplace, with only 15 per cent of respondents admiring the management style of their bosses and colleagues.”

“charisma is the ability to inspire enthusiasm, interest, or affection in others by means of personal charm or influence.”  Maxwell (2008)

charismatic-kingResearchers like Burns define charismatic or heroic leadership as the model in which the followers believe on their leaders based mainly on their on reputation than on their ability to directly influence their followers. When we look at history, there it seems that from the beginning until the Middle Ages, most of the well known leaders seem to fit the modern description of a charismatic leader. Even in the modern times, many of our well known leaders in the arts, sports, and even in politics seem to reach that position through their so called charisma more than on their personal attributes, which says as much about them as it says about us as followers. While this is still happening, in recent times we can see that some of our most successful and imitated leaders such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mother Teresa and others, do not fit the stereotype of being charismatic or have a superior personality.

As we review the development of leadership through the ages, we can learn that we have moved from the Traits theories in the early 1900, through the Behaviors finishing with Fiedler’s current theory of contingency approaches. When we look at Burns transactional and transformational leadership, he indicates that there must be shared values between leaders and followers, allowing us to believe that based on the most recent studies, leadership is not based on a single trait, but it depends on multiple factors and that allows almost any individual with the proper set of attributes or skills according to become a successful leader. Based on these studies we can conclude that even if is possible that individuals will like to follow a perfect leader, in reality leadership attributes are highly dependent on the specific situation and organizational/social structure. In addition to these factors Nahavandi also found that the different levels of national culture influence our expectations of what is a leader and how should he behave, in alignment with the findings of Hofstede’s research on Cultural Dimensions.

Additional Readings

“Lead it like Beckham.” European Business Forum 14 (Summer 2003): 89(1). General OneFile. Gale. Apollo Library. 10 Feb. 2009

Maxwell, J. C., (2008). Charismatic Leadership. Leadership Excellence, 25(11), 13.

Nahavandi, A. (2006). The Art and Science of Leadership (Fourth ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, US: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Wren, J. T. (1995). Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership Through the Ages. New York, NY, US: The Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in Organizations (Six ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, US: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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