The Two Faces of Charismatic Leadership

Charisma and I have a troubled relationship. I find myself drawn to it and have often enjoyed that special sparkle that a charismatic leader possesses. However, I have also been hurt by charisma when that sparkle takes on a dark hue. As a result, I have tried to understand how I can distinguish between the different shades of charisma. In other words, how can I discern whether a charismatic person is going to help me or hurt me?

My defining ‘charisma moment’ occurred when I discovered a study conducted 25 years ago (by House and Howell). In their study they discovered that charismatic leaders naturally fall into one of two categories. See if their results align with your personal experience.

  • ME Charisma: Also called, personalized charisma, leaders with ME charisma respond to challenges by prioritizing their own needs. Their tendency to place their own needs ahead of their organizations indirectly means that they believe their company exists to help them. Research shows that these individuals will engage in actions which are adverse to their company, be exploitative, self-aggrandizing (braggers), authoritarian, narcissistic, and non-egalitarian (do not view others as equal). As a result, followers of leaders who utilize ME charisma often encounter detrimental consequences.
  • WE Charisma: Also called socialized charisma, leaders with WE charisma are very different because they focus their efforts on organizational needs. They are egalitarian (view others as equal), and seek to create a vision that reflects the organization. They empower, give away authority, are follower-focused and typically refocus their personal sparkle on the organization or other people (instead of themselves). As a result, followers of leaders with WE charisma often encounter positive experiences.

If you are like me, you cannot help but read these descriptions and have names come to mind. We have worked for people with ME charisma. We have also worked for leaders with WE charisma. And I strongly suspect that, if I gave you a choice, you would all choose to work for the same charismatic style. The problem is that both of these methods can get results. However, if you value people in your organization, only one of these results matters!

Therefore, charisma is neither good nor bad. Rather, why charisma is used is the heart of the matter. Some will choose to use if for self-serving purposes while others will use it for the benefit of those around them. In fact, I really don’t have a troubled relationship with charisma at all. I only have a troubled relationship with ME charisma. And I think that I should!


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Source: Stephen Fogarty, The Dark Side of Charismatic Leadership

Psychic Salary: What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Once a year, Amazon employees get an interesting opportunity.  They are offered cash to quit working at their company. The first offer is worth $2,000. Each successive year it increases by $1,000 up to a maximum of $5,000. This creative idea began at Zappos, a company known for their innovative approach to organizational culture.

So why do organizations pay employees to leave? The premise is a simple one, “unhappy people make for unhappy companies” (Harvard Business Review). We have all worked with Poisonous Peter (or Petra). They can suck the life out of the best job. As Jeff Bezoes, CEO and founder of Amazon states, “Great companies are great precisely because they stand for something special, different, distinctive. That means, almost by definition, that they are not for everybody. It takes a certain personality type to thrive…if there isn’t the right fit, it makes perfect sense to quit” (Harvard Business Review). Paying employees to leave can serve the purpose of weeding the organizational garden.

But there may be an even more important reason. Pay-to-leave incentives make employees regularly review a very critical question – what gets you up in the morning? Because work is personal, we need to be motivated to perform our best. The pay-to-leave offer makes employees re-examine their motivation each year.

At a recent event hosted by the Coachella Valley Small Business Development Center we heard an example of this concept. Jennifer Di Francesco serves as the Spa & Sports Club Director for Toscana Country Club, a prestigious country club in our region. Each spring Jennifer has an interesting challenge. Due to a high population of seasonal residents who winter in the desert, she has to lay off almost all of her staff for five months during the slow season. Despite this challenge, she notes that almost every staff member chooses to return.

While she does not offer pay-to-leave incentives, her unique situation provides a different version of this concept. Instead of pay-to-leave, her employees are faced with a decision of pay-to-stay. Similar to the Amazon model, it makes her employees examine what is important. Jennifer believes that an employee’s decision to return is rooted in the value of their ‘psychic salary’, an idea promoted by Holly Steil in her book Neon Signs of Service. Psychic salary refers to the amount of non-financial value that an employee derives from their job. She realizes that there are more reasons than just money that keep employees happy. Similar to Amazon, Toscana Club employees must re-examine what gets them up in the morning on an annual basis.

Wise employers figure out what contributes to their employee’s psychic salary and intentionally build it. Jennifer notes that club prestige and a healthy work environment are two things which help her foster this. For your team, it may be the location of your business, the boss they work for, scheduling flexibility or organizational culture.

Research by the Gallup organization reveals that only 30% of Americans say they are engaged at work (Why We Hate Work: Issues of Engagement). This means that most of us are not creating the psychic salary that employees need to feel engaged. Peter Drucker summarized it well; “culture eats strategy for lunch”. If we fail to make our employees examine their motives, salary doesn’t matter.

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Jeff Suderman is a strategist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Bill Taylor (April 14, 2014). Why Amazon is copying Zappos and paying employees to quit. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review.

On President’s Day: Should President’s Play?

Yesterday Air Force One arrived in our city. President Obama is spending President’s Day weekend in Palm Springs enjoying some down time. In fact, his recurring visits to Palm Springs have earned it the title of Camp David West.

Shortly after his arrival, local media snapped a photo of the President on a local golf course and posted the picture on Facebook. Since he usually fits in a round of golf while here, this is not surprising. However, the comments on Facebook (I know, it’s never a good idea to read these!), revealed that many citizens are very critical of our leader taking some down time.

Regardless of your opinion about this specific situation, Obama’s golf game reminds us of decisions that we each must make regarding our priorities. Socrates reminded us that good leaders must ‘know thyself’. How well do you know yourself in each of these three areas related to your priorities?

  1. Do you ‘live to work’ or ‘work to live’? While I was consulting in the Baltic region a local employee told me that ‘we work to live’ so don’t expect our workdays to extend much beyond 5:00. This principle held true during my time there and I found myself enjoying unexpected free time. Ironically, many of these evening were spent over long dinners with my contacts and I found that this ‘down-time’ helped facilitate many of our consult goals in unconventional and effective ways. Do you ‘live to work’ or ‘work to live’?
  2. Does your work define you? A local businessman recently noted that North American’s tend to look to work to meet most of their need for life satisfaction. This helps explain why it is so difficult for many of us to leave work at the office. You have a very important choice in what you allow to define you. Can you articulate what this is?
  3. How do you recharge? No matter who you are, you need time to recharge. There is no magic formula and you have to find what works for you. It can range from walks to stretches to lunchtime workouts to power naps. I believe that recharging seldom occurs without intentionality. How do you plan to recharge?

While it is important to know yourself, you must also know your team.  Chris may actually be more productive at work if you let her leave at 4:00 to coach the little league team. Conversely, you have team members who thrive on working longer hours and will enjoy a challenging project.

You also need to intentionally manage these differences within your team so conflict does not erupt. A high-ranking bank employee recently confided that, “it’s hard to balance my work and personal life because I am surrounded by staff who are willing to work far more hours than I am able to in order to get ahead”. This individual is highly competent and ability is not the issue. Rather, differences of priority between himself and his team are causing angst. This reveals that his organization is not clearly communicating work expectations.

For me, golf clears my head. It gives me time to think and recharge. I suspect our President is the same and trust that his weekend provides him a chance to re-energize. After all, he has a work week ahead of him that few of us will ever have to worry about.

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Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman