While recently delivering a module on leadership development, several participants suggested that charisma is high up on the list of important qualities for a leader. Research, however, would indicate that many effective leaders are humble, to the point that charisma is the last word used to describe them. So, is charisma a key ingredient to effective Leadership or does it undermine leadership?

Firstly, what exactly is charisma? The dictionary definition is that it is "a special personal quality or power of an individual, which makes him or her capable of influencing or inspiring large numbers of people." So, a charismatic person tends to be able to persuade and influence a person, or group of people, to agree to things and do things that they might not ordinarily agree to for anyone else.

This ability usually shows up early in a person's career. A charismatic individual cajoles, inspires, persuades others to get things done, so he or she is seen as a individual who get results. In most organisations, successful delivery of results leads to promotion, often several and, before they know it, the individual is in a position of leadership.

To recap, we now have a person who has the proven ability to inspire and influencing large numbers of people in a position of leadership, which is all about influencing and inspiring large numbers of people. A perfect fit, right? On the face of it, it does indeed seem perfect and yet, it often doesn't turn out that way. Long-term, charismatic leaders are often less successful than their less-charismatic colleagues. Over time, many charismatic leaders are "found out" to be less than upfront, less than perfect. Why the disconnect?

Peeling back the layers, it comes down to "intention" and "responsibility". A charismatic leader knows they have the ability to influence people to do what he or she wants them to do. After all, they've had years of practice and have been rewarded accordingly. So, they have personally gained from being charismatic and that can become addictive. Why give up something that comes naturally and you gain from?

Effective leadership, however, goes beyond personal interest and gain, and becomes about the wider needs of the organisation. This translates into, at times, doing something that is not in one's own best interest but is in the best interests of the company. If a charismatic leader can make that leap from acting in self-interest to acting for the good of the company, charisma is a very powerful tool to help inspire others to achieve those goals and purpose. If, on the other hand, they use their charisma for their own ends, it becomes a hindrance and diminishes a leader's long-term effectiveness.

So, a charismatic leader has a responsibility to clearly recognise and understand their true intentions before they engage in influencing others. If the intention is for the greater good, charisma serves as a very effective, helpful tool. Used for self-interest, however, charisma can become a double-edged sword.

Author's Bio: 

Irial O'Farrell is an executive coach, trainer and author. She is fascinated with what makes people and companies sucessful and works with clients to become the best leaders they can be so they can deliver high performance results.

She has written the book Values-Not Just for the Office Wall Plaque: How Personal and Company Values Intersect.

Find aout more about Irial on www.irialofarrell.com or www.evolutionconsulting.ie