We are sucked in by charisma, yet it can be a problem for long-term survival
The supermarket giant, Tesco, has announced today that its CEO is to leave – after only three years in the job. Philip Clarke took over from Sir Terry Leahy who was the company’s Chief Executive from 1997 having started work at Tesco in 1979. During his time at the business, Tesco went from an “also-ran” in the UK supermarket sector to becoming the second largest retailer in the world after Walmart.
Meanwhile, the football season is about to get underway where Manchester United is to get a new manager, following the departure of David Moyes after only 10 months in the job. He followed Sir Alex Ferguson who had been the team’s manager for almost 27 years taking the club to even greater success than in its history.
In both of these instances the new leaders took over from charismatic leaders and the organisations somehow didn’t quite make it to the dizzy heights previously achieved. Tesco, for instance, has issued profits warnings to the City, whereas Manchester United failed to achieve anything substantial in the year following the departure of Sir Alex. Even though great hopes were held out for the new leaders of Tesco and Manchester United, those hopes were never realised.
It is a familiar story. An organisation reaches dizzy heights thanks to the strong and determined leadership of the person at the top, only for that organisation never to be quite the same once that charismatic individual departs. Even though Apple remains a strong brand and a leading technology business, people still question its survival following the death of Steve Jobs. It doesn’t seem to be quite the same business.
Charisma is easy to achieve
Research shows that even though some people appear to be naturally charismatic, you can be taught charisma. It seems that what we describe as a “charismatic leader” is someone who merely makes significant emotional connections to us as individuals. They show empathy and emotional intelligence. They focus more on winning over our hearts than converting our minds.
That is why charismatic leaders achieve success. They get us emotionally connected to their vision and they create strong ties between us as followers and themselves as leaders. Martin Luther King did it. Gandhi did it. Jesus of Nazareth did it.
They may well have been naturally emotionally intelligent people. But there are other charismatic leaders who gained emotional connection between themselves and their followers who are not so nice. Hitler did it, for a start. And in modern times vast swathes of Russia have fallen into the emotional trap laid before them by Putin. Charismatic leaders do not always achieve positive success.
The problem with charismatic leadership
Whether you consider Putin as a negative example or Sir Terry Leahy as a positive example, the problem with charismatic leaders is what happens after they depart. The emotional connection between the followers and their leader is torn apart. The new leader does not have the same emotional tie and so the followers do not follow with the same degree of empathy and desire.
So if your business has a charismatic leader you run the risk of the company getting into trouble when that leader moves on. The followers no longer have someone to follow who creates the degree of emotional connection they are used to.
Following in footsteps
The new leaders often start their term of leadership by explaining that they are not the person everyone loved, that they cannot replace him or her and that they are different. Indeed, boards of directors often search for a replacement who is different and who “cannot possibly replace” the former leader.
And therein lies the problem. What people need as a new leader is someone EXACTLY like the departing leader – someone with massive emotional intelligence, someone who has deep empathy, someone who concentrates on hearts not minds.
In other words, your business might not need a charismatic leader if you cannot guarantee to concentrate on emotional intelligence and empathy. If your web business wants to concentrate on hard facts, don’t get a charismatic leader because you will limit your future potential when you replace them. Alternatively, you can set in train a process to ensure your business always has charismatic leaders because you focus on emotion and empathy, rather than logic. Sometimes organisations don’t do so well because they swing from charisma to logic and then back again when someone emerges with charisma to lead them again.
Either concentrate on always being a charismatically led company, or concentrate on being a logical company.
Which leaves us with one unresolved issue – how we find someone with charisma who is a positive example to take over from President Putin.