A remarkable article in the ZEIT by Elisabeth Niejahr titled 2011: “Lieber ohne Aura” and asked whether politicians with charisma were outdated and the time of the vain and objective “machinists” had not dawned. Because politicians in the higher sense are always also executives and managers, this question can also be asked for management in the company. For the first time, American political scientist and historian James MacGregor Burns distinguished between transactional and transforming politicians. According to his analysis, transactional politicians are more oriented towards preserving the status quo, while transformational politicians bring about change. George M. Brass has taken up this distinction and expanded it into his theory of Transformational Leadership.
A changing charisma
The transformational leader motivates people to align themselves intrinsically motivated to higher goals instead of just pursuing personal advantage. Such managers not only convey desirable visions, but also act as a guide and role model. Charisma is considered today as a kind of abbreviation on the way to effective leadership. The art of speech, gestures, facial expressions and posture is not intended to replace the stony path to employee confidence, but it should make it a little quicker and easier.
The idea of the character of the charisma has changed: away from an (erotic) charisma to a convincing standing. Negative examples confirm that the”charismatic manager” with a penchant for narcissism, who inspires everyone but also has everything under control, is a case for the Mottenkiste. However, while in the Christian tradition charisma was still a gift of grace from God, workshops today praise many ways of becoming a radiant personality. Realistically, however, Charisma is probably neither a gift from heaven nor a skill set that you can simply buy. It cannot be learned, but can be acquired and developed through active experience and emotional and rational reflection.
Other things matter more
Of course there are also positive examples of charisma and charismatic persuasiveness. Jim Collins, however, proves with his research that there is no connection between a charismatic leadership style and particular corporate success. According to Collins, particularly successful managers show a mixture of determination and modesty that sets the company manager apart from the merely competent and effective manager. Level 5 – Collins calls these behaviours geared to the success of the company leadership qualities:
- Provides top results, assumes important catalytic function
- Consistent determination to do what needs to be done
- Sets standards for top performance, is not satisfied with less
- Look in the mirror when the results are poor, not out of the window
- Unobtrusive appearance, shuns public praise, without any boast
- Act calmly, but firmly. Motivated not by charisma, but by outstanding standards
- Ambition for the company, not for his ego. Selects successors.
- Look out the window with good results, not in the mirror.
All in all, these results come as no surprise, as Max Weber recognized over 100 years ago that”institutions that endure do not owe their success to the charisma of a leader, but to the fact that they cultivate the art of leadership in the entire system.
Effect through values and actions
If one considers the high value shares of a leader with a lighthouse function, it is very questionable whether training of the external effect can generate the special aura that is said to charismatics. It is certainly true that social interactions determine the relationship between manager and employee and that language, facial expressions and gestures of the boss are effective. But much more important than the appearance are the actions. The authors Kouzes and Posner have evaluated concrete actions of managers according to how management is received by employees and what behaviour promises success. Their results complement the purely communicative qualities and are summarised in five principles:
Setting an example
- Find your point by clarifying your values.
- Align your actions with the common values and be a role model in them.
Creating a common vision
- Create a picture of the future with exciting and inspiring possibilities.
- Win others for a shared vision by talking to them about shared hopes and expectations.
Advancing the process
- Search for opportunities and possibilities for development and growth.
- Experiment, take risks, achieve many small victories and learn from mistakes.
Empowering others to act
- Promote cooperation through cooperative goals and building trust.
- Strength for others through participation in power and expanded scope for action.
- Show explicit recognition for outstanding, individual performance.
- Promote the spirit of community, celebrate common values and victories.
Charisma – a decisive Yes and No
The question whether charisma workshops are always absurd can at best be answered with a decisive”yes”. The charisma label promises a caesarian aura that you can’t just learn. According to Watzlawick, however, communication is impossible and false non-verbal signals are questioned even by the truest of people, so development measures in the area of personal external impact are quite useful.
These complement the inner standing that one already has through value orientation and professional and human exemplariness. But those who believe they can shorten the sometimes stony path to real integrity will be disappointed. Nowadays, employees quickly sense that there is often a lot of empty space behind large gestures. It’s hard to regain trust once you’ve lost it.