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With leader charisma, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing

14 June 2017

If there’s one quality you absolutely want in a leader, it’s surely charisma.

 Celebrated leaders are invariably associated with this magic word, and evidence suggests charismatic people inspire more trust, commitment, and results from their followers. But across a number of other supposedly virtuous traits, such as political ability or assertiveness, researchers are starting to realise that it’s possible to have “too much of a good thing.”

Could charisma fall in that category? That’s the suggestion of new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Jasmine Vergauwe of the University of Ghent and her collaborators began by investigating a mainly American sample, employees in an international aerospace company.

They focused on around 300 leaders (supervisors to general managers), two-thirds of them male and typically in their late 40s, who rated themselves on a personality measure focused on capturing charismatic leader qualities.

They then rated their own effectiveness as leaders, and the more charismatic they rated themselves, the more effective they believed they were. But when other members of the organisation rated the same leaders, a different picture emerged.

Each group – peers, subordinates and managers – described the same pattern: both low-charisma and high-charisma leaders were seen as less effective than those in between.

Charisma was useful up to a point, but beyond that, it was counterproductive.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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