Are Charisma and Conscientiousness Mutually Exclusive in a Leader?

what-makes-good-ceo A lot of executive research has gone into narrowing down the characteristics that define a great leader. The winner in 2009 is: Mr. Dull.  This is no surprise to anyone who’s read Jim Collins’ Good to Great, where he found the best CEOs to be down-to-earth, humble, and diligent individuals that are dependable and follow through on their duties.  That was perhaps in direct contradiction to decades of charisma leadership worshipping, where celebrity status had been doled out for the likes of Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca.

Now the reversal is complete.  Going from boom to doom, steady growth to certain contraction, the writings on the wall calls out for CEOs that exhibit more substance and less flamboyance, more reliability and less bravado, more resolute sternness over flexibility and shades of grey.  This article makes some interesting points on this definitive shift in the sand in terms of this era demands of its leaders, backed up by (obviously) supporting data.

I have several issues with this study and many of the conclusions drawn. One, these studies are done with a definitive need for a clear answer and no shades of grey. One style of leadership will always triumph over the other, regardless of circumstances.  Yet I imagine circumstances must have some bearings on the ultimate success of any particular leadership style.  For example, leadership needs for an industry in turmoil may be greatly different than an industry that is relatively stable and gets ahead by careful execution.

Secondly, this is clearly the predictable verdict in a bad economy, where, gasp, everyone, from consumers to board members, are looking for security and conservatism.  The study may have its merits, but the cynic in me cannot help but feel this is but another stroke of the same populist pandering the paper has been indulging in.  When the good times come around again, the tide will most likely turn and all that is condemned and belittled now will reign once again.

Lastly, I can hardly believe that charisma and reliability are always mutually exclusive. Although that is hardly the conclusion drawn here. In summary, the study found the following.

Good people skills do not translate to successful leadership skills. So traits such as good listening, team building, communication skills do not count for much as one climbs up the rungs. As CEOs, someone who’s “warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic” do no better than sample group number two.

This latter group excels in execution and organization, and in this study, correlate most powerfully with success. Those pay particular “attention to detail, persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness and the ability to work long hours”, or in other words, “organized, dogged, anal-retentive and slightly boring people “ are more likely to deliver in the executive chair.

Agree, disagree, what are your thoughts?

picture source: djbisparulz


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  • Daniel

    Though I agree with the observation that reliability is key to a good leader, in my experience it also helps to be flexible, which usually requires even more than reliability. One of the flaws of huge corporations is, even with the greatest of leadership, they can’t turn on a dime to respond to sudden market changes like the recent drop in consumer shopping. This, I believe, is where the small entrepreneur shines. As further support for my argument, allow me to refer you to newsy.com’s recent video on entrepreneurship. Some of their findings coincide with yours. For instance, most entrepreneurs do work many more hours than corporate employees. Personally, I find this kind of stuff very interesting anyway, so I’d be glad to discuss it.

  • Daniel

    Though I agree with the observation that reliability is key to a good leader, in my experience it also helps to be flexible, which usually requires even more than reliability. One of the flaws of huge corporations is, even with the greatest of leadership, they can’t turn on a dime to respond to sudden market changes like the recent drop in consumer shopping. This, I believe, is where the small entrepreneur shines. As further support for my argument, allow me to refer you to newsy.com’s recent video on entrepreneurship. Some of their findings coincide with yours. For instance, most entrepreneurs do work many more hours than corporate employees. Personally, I find this kind of stuff very interesting anyway, so I’d be glad to discuss it.

  • http://investoralist.com/ Dana

    Daniel,

    Interesting site, thanks for sharing. I think flexibility is a requisite in the business environment. But the question is one of style, versus one of flexibility – which can be exhibited by a leader that is visionary but lacks the patience for details and planning, as well as someone who is focused on execution and delivery.

    Thanks for dropping by, great to have you here.

  • http://investoralist.com Dana

    Daniel,

    Interesting site, thanks for sharing. I think flexibility is a requisite in the business environment. But the question is one of style, versus one of flexibility – which can be exhibited by a leader that is visionary but lacks the patience for details and planning, as well as someone who is focused on execution and delivery.

    Thanks for dropping by, great to have you here.

  • Daniel

    Oh, I see what you’re getting at. Then yes, I definitely agree with your conclusion. There are benefits to having a charismatic leader, but if I had to pick someone to run a company, I’d always go with the more reliable over the more charismatic individual. I used to work promoting a local musician and although he was very charismatic and fun to watch on stage, he was generally unreliable (show up late, waffle on decisions, etc). Everyone I know who worked with him got out when they got the chance. I also worked for an engineer who was about as reliable as they come (he was the owner of his own small engineering firm, coincidentally). He’s still doing well. So I think there is living proof on both sides.

  • Daniel

    Oh, I see what you’re getting at. Then yes, I definitely agree with your conclusion. There are benefits to having a charismatic leader, but if I had to pick someone to run a company, I’d always go with the more reliable over the more charismatic individual. I used to work promoting a local musician and although he was very charismatic and fun to watch on stage, he was generally unreliable (show up late, waffle on decisions, etc). Everyone I know who worked with him got out when they got the chance. I also worked for an engineer who was about as reliable as they come (he was the owner of his own small engineering firm, coincidentally). He’s still doing well. So I think there is living proof on both sides.