The BLG Blog

Posts & articles that have helped thousands build performance through pragmatic leadership.

We Know Charisma Isn’t Essential to Leadership. So What Is?

There’s been a lot of talk about leadership in our culture. If you want to understand our culture’s perception of leadership all you have to do is read the recent Time Magazine, “No Charisma? Don’t Worry, You Can Still Be a Leader”

One thing I noticed about this article is not what it says–but what it doesn’t say. What it doesn’t say is fundamental.

Sure Abraham Lincoln had charisma. Sure, President Obama has charisma. But in the final analysis, leadership is about the nuts-and-bolts skills of execution and getting things done.

When I ask my students at Cornell who they think are important leaders they come up with a familiar list: Martin Luther King Jr., Harry S. Truman, Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and now Obama. My next question to my classes is, “What do these people have in common?” They often tell me, “Charisma” or, in other words, that they inspired people.

Here, they are partially right. Charisma, according to Max Weber, is the amorphous quality that translates your vision to others. Yet this isn’t the whole story….

Leadership is about pragmatic, practical results, about the capacity to deliver. Leadership is comprised of small tactical and  managerial skills. Today, Obama is being challenged, not because of his lack of charisma, but by his ability to deliver results. And he well knows it. Just like Martin Luther King Jr., Harry S. Truman, Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln knew.

They knew that charisma couldn’t replace their ability to deliver results, sustain momentum, and get people on there side. In other words, they knew without the practical ability to deliver results they would just be a willow of a wisp in history—something beautiful, something dramatic, but something irrelevant.

We’ve discussed this notion of executing agendas here and here.



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