What is charismatic leadership?

Leaders who apply a charismatic leadership style achieve superior levels of employee engagement and performance. Charismatic leaders behave in such a way that motivates and garners commitment from the team. For example, charismatic leaders appear confident and optimistic, follow a greater vision, communicate thoughtfully, keep their followers’ needs in mind, and take ethical considerations into account. Some authors and institutions even go one step further and take a more heroic perspective on charismatic leadership theory. They define charisma as a “special power” that enables some gifted people to influence others and gain their admiration.

However, research has shown that this “special power” can be learned and that it is not just rooted in your personality. With our help and support, you, too, can develop your own charismatic leadership style. In this blog article, we provide you with an overview on the key components of charismatic leadership theory. If you want to practice behaviors of charismatic leaders daily and are interested in weekly inspiration, you can also subscribe to Co-Leader’s free online training.

First, let’s revisit our initial question: What is charismatic leadership? Charismatic leadership occurs when a person is able to arouse his or her followers’ need for achievement and affiliation by the power of the person’s individual behaviors. Moreover, charismatic leaders can align their followers on the organization’s vision and mission, as well as improve their levels of motivation. Finally, those charismatic leadership behaviors help to shift followers’ individual goals from personal interests and advantages toward a shared vision and the desire to see the whole team or organization succeed.

What behaviors are part of a charismatic leadership style?

Now we have a general, but solid, understanding of charismatic leadership styles or, rather, charismatic leadership theory. But how exactly should you behave to be perceived as a charismatic leader who inspires others and gains their support? What is charismatic leadership when it comes into practice?

  • Have a vision or greater purpose and make clear how your team contributes to it. Your followers have to know what overarching goal they are working on and how each of them can contribute.

  • Show confidence that your team is able to achieve beyond expectations. Your optimism and and belief in their success will inspire them.

  • Develop strong communication skills that are supported by clear body language. Using an easy-to-follow argumentation structure, making use of metaphors and incorporating anecdotes of past team successes will reveal your charismatic nature.

  • Pay attention to the individual needs of your team. Charismatic leaders understand their team’s strengths, development needs, and also issues to overcome. And they consider them when assigning tasks or offering support.

  • Be a curious learner, grow your knowledge base and improve your competencies at all times. Your followers will acknowledge your skills, understanding of the bigger picture, and ability to provide direction.

  • Consider moral and ethical implications in your daily behaviors and decision making processes. People value leaders who have a strong sense of right and wrong.

  • Maintain a high level of energy and passion to get things done. Only if you really implement what you have promised will people trust you and continue believing in your skills as a leader.

Do you want to review how you actually perform in the areas mentioned above? Then use our free template to structure your thoughts and save some time. To make it accurate, we recommend you support your personal assessment with concrete examples from your daily life.

You might think that some behaviors of charismatic leaders fit better with your personality or organization’s culture than others. And that is absolutely fine. You should work on those behaviors that fit best with your interests and your environment to remain authentic. But strive for improvements in each dimension. If you are interested in lasting support to become a charismatic leader, you can subscribe to our free tool.

Charismatic leadership style in practice: a short case study on becoming a charismatic leader

To illustrate what a charismatic leadership style looks like in practice, we have created a short case study. At the end of the case study are three questions for reflection designed to make your new knowledge on charismatic leadership theory stick.

How could a coach build up his team after a series of defeats? How could he win the hearts of the players and the fans with charismatic leadership behaviors? First, he should define an ambitious, but realistic, vision or goal: win championships three years from now. His team might not be in contention to win championships this year, but the coach is very confident that the team has the potential to win them in three years.

Next, he should think of a way to communicate this vision. He needs a compelling story, ideally based on a metaphor or analogy, that also takes the team’s injured pride into account. He decides to compare his team with the crew of a sailing ship after a heavy storm. The boat has sustained significant damage and some seamen are hurt. But the crew is eager to repair the boat, and their eagerness sparks their effort like never before, leading the whole team to want to win the next regatta by all means.

To deliver the vision in an inspiring and energizing way, the coach has to improve his communication style by adding elements of charismatic communication. He speaks with confidence and optimism, structures his arguments in an easy to follow manner, adds metaphors when explaining things, improves his body language, and repeats the overarching vision frequently.

The coach knows that true improvements won’t come over night and that it takes time and resilience to achieve new levels of commitment and motivation. To support each and every player, he makes use of another element of the charismatic leadership style: paying attention to everyone’s individual needs. Hence, the coach regularly dedicates time for each player to better understand his personal goals, needs, and concerns. He builds strong relationships with all team members and makes clear how every single player contributes to the overarching vision. Good relationships are a prerequisite to being charismatic.

Over time, the coach observes impressive improvements in the team’s performance and a never expected team spirit. The players developed a strong will to win every single match and supported each other in their personal development.

In this way, the coach learned the true value of having a charismatic leadership style (in contrast with more authoritative or transactional leadership styles): superior team performance that lasts.

Questions for reflection and to consolidate your knowledge:

  • Describe in your own words: “What is charismatic leadership?”

  • What behaviors of charismatic leaders did you observe in our case study?

  • What charismatic leader behaviors could the coach additionally apply?

If you want to improve your own charismatic leadership style and if you have the goal to build a high performing team around you, you should subscribe to our free tool. For the next 8 weeks, you will receive up to three emails per week with personalized reminders and working templates. This approach will provide enough practice to ensure lasting learning success, while also providing learning nuggets that can fit into tight daily schedules.