There’s an interesting lesson about charismatic leadership emerging from President Obama. He delivers great speeches. He paints a great vision. He motivates. But now he’s in power he’s said to be cautious, allowing others to take control of big discussions and struggling to enforce the difficult decisions he faces.
Yes, he clearly won the votes of millions of Americans because he made them believe he would improve their lives but now he’s in office, his detractors say he’s forgetting about this. Therefore, it’s not surprising questions are being asked about whether he’s tough enough to tackle the difficult issues that face the country.
Is Obama now starting to display the potential failing of charismatic leaders, namely translating the rhetoric and promises into reality?
We love charismatic leaders and sometimes we think that’s all leadership is but of course we’re sadly mistaken. We’ve seen lots of charismatic leaders wowing us from conference platforms but their own achievements actually may not hold up to too much scrutiny.
Charismatic leadership is the superficial element of leadership. It’s at the inspiration end of the leadership spectrum whilst it’s at the perspiration end where greater effort is often required: implementation planning, overcoming resistance to change and not shying away from having those difficult conversations.
There is, of course, a dark side to charismatic leadership. Despite their engaging charm and stated concern for others, charismatic leaders may be more preoccupied with themselves and managing their own reputation. Their self-belief can be so high they think they’re infallible. This can eventually lead them into what commentators describe as psychotic narcissism with the end result of their leadership being questioned because of their need for increasing admiration.
Yes, charismatic leadership has its place but the proof of the pudding is in the implementation not the rhetoric.