Creating Charismatic Leaders

Charisma, the leadership quality that
emanates from good social skills, the ability to relate to followers and sensitivity to others’ feelings, is no more important than vision, comprising expert, analytical ability plus an innate sense of future possibilities. Together charisma and vision make for truly charismatic leadership.
These are the findings of H Alvin Ng of the Department of Business Studies at Massey University in Wellington and Naresh Khatri of the Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, who carried out the study with NZIM.
Charismatic leaders are generally described as charming, self-confident and persuasive. Usually eloquent, with an innate ability to sense followers’ needs and concerns, they provide the assurance and direction to “forge ahead”. The charismatic leader “tugs at the heartstrings” of an audience. Charismatic leaders heavy on charisma are masters of social skills and sensitive to their social environment.
In contrast, the charismatic visionary is able to conjure up mental image of possible and desirable future states for an organisation. Vision is different from charisma because vision is intellect-based. Charisma is an emotion-based quality. As various management writers have summarised it; the visionary quality is dependent on the leader’s expertise, experience, insights and foresights.
In this latest study, Ng and Khatri examined the nature of leadership charisma and vision and its impact on follower motivation, commitment, satisfaction and reported performance. The study surveyed sample of 115 subordinates who evaluated 44 middle- and senior-level managers in five medium to large New Zealand organisations.
The major thesis of the study was that charisma and vision are two independent components and that leaders have to have both in order to achieve motivated, satisfied, committed and high performing followers. Not surprisingly perhaps, their research confirmed the separate nature of the two components.
The study also showed, however, that the two key components of charismatic leadership, charisma and vision, could be broken down into four closely related sub-factors. Two of them, “social sensitivity” and “charismatic traits [persuasive skills]”, were charisma sub-factors while “expert and analytical abilities” and “visionary and futuristic orientation” are visionary sub-factors.
Charisma’s social sensitivity and charismatic traits (persuasive) confirmed for the researchers the innate as well as the observable behaviour of charisma. Together innate traits and expressed behaviour work to bring about “a larger than life image” of the leader in the eyes of followers.
The sub-factors of vision, “expert and analytical ability” and “visionary and futuristic orientation” showed that expertise, good judgement, intelligence and analytical ability are important requisites for vision as is certain ability to visualise the future and think strategically.
These four sub-factors, according to the researchers, are highly related to each other. They also significantly influence employee motivation, satisfaction and reported performance output. The researchers believe their analysis helps demystify the charismatic leadership shroud. They suggest that by revealing the individual characteristics underlying vision and charisma in greater detail, it must be possible to design individual development programmes to boost leaders’ charisma or vision related capabilities.
They go even further and suggest that as highly effective charismatic leaders are few and far between, organisations should put together management teams with complementing abilities. “Thus, instead of depending on charismatic individual to bring an organisation forward, viable alternative might be charismatic group with each individual having certain complementary skills and abilities to those of the others.”
The solution, they ventured, might provide an answer to the lament expressed by one management writer that: “Many bright, able, and technically proficient individuals fail as leaders because they lack interpersonal competence.” According to Ng and Khatri charismatic leadership group “might accomplish the same results as charismatic individual”.
But as they point out, this raises another question. Is it possible to exchange single leader for group and still get the same charismatic effect? Or equally, could individual group members with different charismatic and visionary traits and capabilities, work seamlessly together to replace charismatic individual? The questions remain unanswered by the researchers who for now have contented themselves with saying that the work they have done in uncovering the underlying factors that make up vision and charisma has given them deeper understanding of charismatic leadership.
The research also showed that New Zealand managers were perceived to have higher visionary than charismatic focus. Depending on your theoretical inclination therefore, the ratings showed New Zealand executives to be, more or less, effective charismatic leaders. Subscribe to the view of researchers who believe that vision is the main driving force in leadership and the results suggested New Zealand managers are right to focus on the visionary aspects of leadership. However, if you believe that charisma plays more important role then greater emphasis needs to be given to charisma related qualities. Regardless of theoretical preference, both charisma and vision are important say the researchers.
When the researchers came to examine the impact of charismatic leadership on follower attitudes and behaviour, they found the charisma factor Ñ social sensitivity Ñ had the greatest influence on follower motivation, satisfaction levels and reported performance. The central role of the social sensitivity highlights the importance of leader’s empathy capabilities and responses to external cues from followers.
According to Ng and Khatri, leaders need to develop their empathy skills in particular while trying to develop the other three sub-factors. They argue that the importance of social sensitivity in charismatic influence is in step with the “humanistic tide that has swept the management theory area in the last few decades”.
At the end of the process however, the results of this research agreed with the general argument that charismatic leadership can influence followers to greater performance while enhancing their motivation in the process. “The debate on which of these two qualities has more central role in influencing followers may well end up with tie, as neither vision nor charisma could totally account for all the influence that was seen in this study,” the researchers concluded.
One implication of the research for organisations wanting to lift the leadership skills within their management ranks would be to examine whether executive development programmes could increase specific charisma capabilities. “Specifically, development could be targeted at capabilities that reflect the social sensitivity, such as social skills, ability to sense the mood of subordinates, interesting and lively style [of leadership], sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others and charm and ability to attract others,” suggests the report.

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