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Lead Your Team Leadership

How Much Charisma is Too Much for Leaders?

 How Much Charisma is Too Much for Leaders?
Credit: Kudla/Shutterstock

Charisma is an important trait in leaders. New research shows, however, that being too charismatic can put those in charge in a negative light in the eyes of their employees.

A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that having too much, or too little, charisma can hurt a leader's effectiveness.

"Our findings suggest that organizations may want to consider selecting applicants with midrange levels of charisma into leadership roles, instead of extremely charismatic leaders," said Jasmine Vergauwe, a doctoral student at Ghent University and lead author of the study, in a statement.

As part of the study, researchers compared the charisma scores of nearly 600 business leaders with how their peers, subordinates and superiors rated their effectiveness. [What kind of leader are you? 9 leadership types and their strengths]

The study's authors found that when a leader's charisma increased, so did their perceived effectiveness. But that only held true up to a point. At a certain level, as charisma scores increased, the individual's perceived effectiveness began declining.

"Leaders with both low and high charismatic personalities were perceived as being less effective than leaders with moderate levels of charisma, and this was true according to all three rater groups," said Filip De Fruyt, one of the study's authors and a professor at Ghent University.

The researchers found that those with low levels of charisma were viewed as less effective because they were not sufficiently strategic, while high-charisma leaders were seen as less effective because they were weak on operational behavior, the study's authors wrote.

According to the study, operational leaders are those who guide their team to get things done in the near term by managing the tactical details of execution, focusing resources, and managing with process discipline, while strategic leadership involves effectively communicating a vision for an organization and persuading others to share that vision.

Vergauwe believes that moderately charismatic leaders were rated as most effective because they appeared to hold both of these traits.

The study's authors found the results to be surprising because despite expecting otherwise, they found no association between interpersonal characteristics and charisma.

"While conventional wisdom suggests that highly charismatic leaders might fail for interpersonal reasons like arrogance and self-centeredness, our findings suggest that business-related behaviors, more than interpersonal behavior, drive leader effectiveness ratings," Vergauwe said.

The researchers believe the study's findings have critical implications for the selection, training and development of future leaders. Besides giving greater consideration to hiring applicants with midrange levels of charisma for leadership roles instead of those who are extremely charismatic, organizations could also provide current and potential leaders with more specialized training based on their level of charisma.

"Highly charismatic leaders would probably gain the most from a coaching program focused on addressing operational demands, such as attending to day-to-day operations and managing an orderly workflow," De Fruyt said. "Low-charisma leaders, on the other hand, would benefit from training in more strategic behavior, such as spending more time and energy on long-term planning, taking a broader perspective on the business as a whole, questioning the status quo and creating a safe environment for trying new things."

The study was co-authored by Robert Kaiser, of Kaiser Leadership Solutions, Bart Wille, of the University of Antwerp, and Joeri Hofmans, of Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.