Merry “Charisma Wrist”???

David Ransburg

During the winter holidays, I heard a young child mispronounce “Christmas” as “Charisma Wrist,” so I now have charisma on my mind. As one who’s been fortunate to work with many effective leaders of family businesses, I’ve been thinking more specifically about charisma and whether or not it’s important for leaders.

At least in Western culture, there is an archetype of leadership where charisma is one of the first qualities that come to mind. Think George Patton, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King, Jr. In business terms, leaders like Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, or Steve Jobs fit the bill. These leaders were all forceful, dynamic, charming, and magnetic. In a word: charismatic.

Recent business thinking has turned that thinking on its head… or, at least it’s begun to. Most widely known is Jim Collins’ concept of a “Level 5 Leader” from his book, Good to Great. Briefly, Mr. Collins’ extensive research into those few companies that demonstrated years of above-average performance after years of below-average results showed that these companies’ “Level 5 Leaders” were described with words such as humble, timid, modest, and shy. In other words, un-charismatic.

Even more compelling evidence in support of the “un-charismatic” leader, in my mind, is research conducted in 2004 by Tosi, et. al. They studied Fortune 500 companies and found that CEO charisma did not predict company performance. The one thing that was influenced by CEO charisma? CEO pay.

Merry “Charisma Wrist,” indeed (at least if you’re a charismatic CEO!).

What are the key traits that you see in the leaders of family businesses?


2 thoughts on “Merry “Charisma Wrist”???”

  1. Thanks for your comment, Bryan. I know that it’s hard for me, personally, to break old habits… so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that many business people still hold on to the notion of a charismatic leader. It’s good to know that there are people like you out there helping to promote this valuable message!

  2. Love the post. Collins’ work is great on the subject, and it is unfortunate that we seek out the primarily charismatic instead of the primarily excellent. Lee Iacocca is a great example of the fallacy of forceful charisma.

    In strong small businesses I see a burden for the work and a heart for those they work with. Care over Charisma. When was the last time we heard a story on that perspective? And yet, it is great to see groups like yours promoting and strengthening businesses so that they understand and lean into those things that lead to “Great.”

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