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Executive Search Articles


Leadership: What About Charisma?

Has the current recession led us to believe that charisma is an obsolete - or even an undesirable- leadership characteristic? When our clients describe the profile of the perfect candidate they frequently use the terms "leader persona" or "executive stature" or "presence." Try assessing that! It's very subjective. And yet, most of us know it when we see it.

But we have witnessed during this recession leaders stumbling and groping and struggling to right their ships. Even those with charisma can't convince their stakeholders that they are on the right course. And let's not forget the charismatic leaders of the past from Enron, Tyco, and Hollinger, just to name a few, some of whom are (rightly!) now in prison.

So, should we hold charisma in contempt?

INSEAD recently sponsored a leadership development conference. One of the organizers, a professor at INSEAD, said that it is an illusion to think that "at a time of crisis...a few charismatic individuals...is all we need." In fact, he suggested that we should examine the "systemic cultural drivers (that have) led to some of the crises we're facing today." That would include the appeal of the charismatic leader.

Professor Petrigliere suggests that instead of developing individuals, we should be developing "leadership communities."

The scope and complexity of the challenges that we face today call for more that one person whose charisma might conceal their inability to individually lead their organizations through the recession, the recovery and beyond.

That points to the need for leadership development programs and strategies that will produce new leaders with world-class skills who possess the attributes of a leader beyond personal magnetism.

Companies - not just large organizations, but small- and medium-sized businesses as well - need to start by identifying their high potential employees, engaging, developing, and retaining them. All four components are important, but certainly identifying the "hi-pot" people is the starting point, and there's no better indicator of future potential and predictor of success than a strong track record of top performance. But that is only half of the equation. Beyond performance, companies should look for, and assess, key personal attributes such as resilience, adaptability, intelligence, focus, emotional maturity (EIQ), energy, stamina, fortitude, and integrity.

Budget constraints may limit what companies can provide in the way of formal development programs, but some of the best training is on the job, which is also an effective way to assess the attributes mentioned above. Many companies are not fully staffed, so it's quite possible that high-potential employees can be given new assignments, they can participate in cross-functional and stretch projects, and even be re-assigned to new roles, that will train and develop them for future leadership positions, and at the same time will be viewed by ambitious employees as an opportunity to develop new skills and obtain "career-enhancing" experience, which will enhance their engagement and reward the company with the retention of key human resources.

Of course, if a company's internal pool of high-potential future leaders is too shallow, the company is at risk and external recruitment will need to be considered. Hiring managers need to make sure that when they interview candidates, they assess their abilities to get the job done today, and-critically-look very at candidates' future leadership potential. Interviewers should include simulations and they should drill down for details surrounding accomplishments - ask why and how; ask about consequences; ask about relationships. Look for those key personal leadership attributes.

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