The Dark Side of Charisma


English: DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN09 -...

English: DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN09 – Tony Blair, UN Middle East Quartet Representative; Member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum captured during the session ‘The Values behind Market Capitalism’ at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2009. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Most people think charisma is as vital to leadership as it is to rock stars or TV presenters and, unfortunately, they are right. In the era of multimedia politics, leadership is commonly downgraded to just another form of entertainment and charisma is indispensable for keeping the audience engaged. However, the short-term benefits of charisma are often neutralized by its long-term consequences. In fact, there are big reasons for resisting charisma:

 

1. Charisma dilutes judgment: There are only three ways to influence others: force, reason, or charm. Whereas force and reason are rational (even when we are “forced” to do something, we obey for a good reason) charm is not. Charm is based on emotional manipulation and, as such, it has the ability to trump any rational assessment and bias our views. Charismatic leaders influence by charm rather than reason and when they run out of charm they tend to revert to force (think Jim Jones, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, or your favorite brutal dictator).

 

2. Charisma is addictive: Leaders capable of charming their followers become addicted to their love. After the initial honeymoon effect is over, they continue to crave high approval ratings, which distracts them from their actual goals. Followers, on the other hand, become addicted to the leader’s charisma, reinforcing displays of populism and perceiving unpopular decisions as deal-breakers. The result is a reciprocal dependence that encourages both parts to distort reality in order to prolong their “high.” Typically, charismatic leaders will remain deluded even after their followers have woken up. Tony Blair will forever think that the invasion of Iraq was a moral triumph, and Saddam Hussein (who relied on charisma for years) was absolutely convinced that he had served his country with dignity and integrity. But ask most people in Britain or Iraq what they think, and you will hear a very different story.

 

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