Have you been blindsided by charisma?

Charisma is the vital ‘somethin somethin’ that is as vital to leadership – but there are big-payoffs to resisting the charms of your biggest talent.

Have you been blindsided by charisma?

HR professionals who believe charisma is a vital trait of leaders are absolutely right – charisma is indispensable in terms of keeping employees engaged, but it also has some serious throwbacks.

According to personality profiling and psychometric testing expert Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the short-term benefits of charisma are often neutralised by its long-term consequences. In fact, there are big reasons for resisting charisma. Here are Chamorro-Premuzic top reasons. Have you fallen into the trap?

1. Charisma dilutes judgment: There are only three ways to influence others: force, reason, or charm. Whereas force and reason are rational (even when we are "forced" to do something, we obey for a good reason) charm is not. Charismatic leaders influence by charm rather than reason and when they run out of charm they tend to revert to force.

2. Charisma is addictive: Leaders capable of charming their followers become addicted to their love. After the initial honeymoon effect is over, they continue to crave high approval ratings, which distracts them from their actual goals. Followers, on the other hand, become addicted to the leader's charisma, reinforcing displays of populism and perceiving unpopular decisions as deal-breakers. The result is a reciprocal dependence that encourages both parts to distort reality in order to prolong their “high”.

3. Charisma disguises psychopaths: Although you don't have to be a psychopath to be charismatic, many psychopaths are charming, and the main reason for this is that their charm hides their antisocial tendencies, so they manage to get away with it.

Related articles:
Hire a psychopath
Do you have a psychopath on your books?
Do you work with a psychopath?

4. Charisma fosters collective narcissism: People are charmed by others only when they share their core values and principles. In line, charisma facilitates ideological self-enhancement: our adoration for someone who expresses our own beliefs (usually better than we are capable of doing ourselves) is a socially acceptable way to love and flatter, not only ourselves, but also our "tribe" (e.g., Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, etc.). In other words, we would not find someone charismatic if their vision didn't align with ours, so the only transformation charismatic leaders can attain is to unite their followers by turning each of them into a more radical version of themselves: the only way of being fully committed to a cause is to be fully opposed to another.

So how can HR professionals avoid the charisma trap?

  • Select leaders using scientifically validated assessment tools, instead of relying on "chemistry" or intuition.
  • Look for hidden talent — which means avoiding the charisma trap. That means looking for leadership potential beyond the people who self-nominate for the role — mostly by bullying and stepping on others.

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