Leadership Charisma…….

“Have you noticed how much of the current popular literature on Leadership focuses on the high profile charismatic leaders and their success stories?”

This comment sparked a somewhat heated debate amongst a group of my students as to the validity of such literature and what contribution these types of books made to the overall understanding of leadership.

“It seems to me that to be a good leader one has to be first and foremost charismatic” he continued as if to emphasise his point.

“And male” retorted a somewhat aggrieved female from within the group much to the amusement of her sisters “well, come on, can somebody name a popular book on leadership that is based on the story of a successful female leader?”

The impact of this question on the group was considerable. After the initial amusement subsided there was an uneasy realisation amongst both sexes within the group that a characteristic that it is cited by many as a fundamental trait of a good leader was widely perceived in popular literature to be predominantly attributable to male leaders.

“As we all know” she continued “charisma is seen by many to be at the root of Transformational Leadership. It’s a key behaviour that defines a change agent in the eyes of the team. It affirms them as a role model, brings life to their vision and provides them with the authority that serves to empower the team.”

It was a pretty powerful and well-articulated argument and one which I, for one, had not really considered hitherto. Whilst it could be argued that the bias in popular leadership literature is a reflection of the relatively low number of female senior executives compared to their male counterparts closer examination would support a proposition that this was exclusively so.

“Interestingly” she continued “it can be reasonably argued that many of the other attributes broadly associated with transformational leadership are no better suited to leaders of either sex so this bias would seem to stem directly from this one attribute.”

The debate continued long into the evening without seemingly coming to a conclusion. Each argument was met with counter argument as to whether leadership skills could be classified in terms of gender or no and indeed whether this could be considered to be a useful categorisation in taking the debate forward. My conclusion, having listened to the various arguments throughout the evening, was that it would not be but I, along with the rest of the group, continued to be troubled by her initial assertion.

“It would seem to me that there is confusion between charisma and heroism in much of the literature” she stated as she rose to leave “and if that’s the case I’m pretty much certain that the attribute that is being described can be used both constructively and destructively with equal effect……”


21 thoughts on “Leadership Charisma…….

    • Hi Tina,

      It is probably the least researched area of leadership thinking. The shelves of full of books about the Richard Branson’s & Jack WElch’s of this world but what really brought it home to me was listening to a guy who had just interviewed 60 top business leaders on leadership – and yes you’ve guessed it not one interviewee was female. Of equal concern was when I asked him if he thought that this might bias his research his answer was an emphatic no! I despair!
      Regards Nick & thanks for reaching out!

  1. What an aha this post is to me. I have tons of leadership books and can’t think of more than a few written by women. I have work to do to begin supporting the cause as a leader, a woman. Any suggestions of good leadership reads by women?

    • Hi… I’m reading Barbara Kellerman’s books at the momement and Gayle Avery is also writing some really good material. I’m trying to put together some research with a specific female orientation.. I wil send you the outline.

      Thank you so much for getting back to me…


      • Thank you for the recommendations, Nick. As a director of 11 principals, eight of which are females, we will be excited to delve into these works. I’ll let you know what we discover on our journey.

  2. Wonderful post. I was just talking with a friend about the difficulties of balancing a work life and home life as a woman, let alone a leader, anyway. I’ve also heard it said that many CEOs are tall… Hmm. Interesting facts. Great article that got me thinking!

  3. “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg is a new book by the CEO of facebook. She talks about what Jessica is speaking of about balancing a home life with work.

    • I just finished reading that book! It delves into Sheryl’s real life stories, but there are also true,blatant facts about female leaders. I highly recommend it!

  4. To me, people still seem very uncomfortable with women as leaders. Even JK Rowling used initials to market her Harry Potter books. Would they have been as successful if the name had been Joanne Rowling? I’d like to think yes, but I just don’t know. She is certainly a leader of kids’ fiction even if not an author of leadership books.

    • A really interesting observation Brenda, thank you. There are many examples of this gender bias in all walks of life – J K Rowling is an excellent example from within the world of literature. My view is that it will progressively diminish over time but sad to say I believe it will bear the characteristics of evolution not revolution.

      • I hope you’re right, but I fear that the dynamic of male dominance is woven tightly into our culture, starting with the families. I’ve seen grown women defer to and wait on small boys, who delight in ordering them around. I’ve seen women stand up to men, only to receive nothing but distain and criticism from all other observers – men, women, children – despite being in the right. I’ve heard the things people say about Hillary Clinton. Oprah talks about men in board rooms not wanting her there. We live in a culture where women are servants in the home and men are in control of the power. This is not conducive to having people accept women as leaders.

      • I have also witnessed many examples of the cultural inequity to which you refer. The UK’s only female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher promoted immense emotional response to her leadership and achievements even at the end of her life some 25 years after leaving office. Hilary and Oprah refer to to similar responses to their presence yet the important point is that they are both there and making a significant contribution in what they do – they are shining examples of the effectiveness of female leaders in our society.

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