Charismatic Leaders: Good or Bad?

From Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, an opinion piece by Jeffery Sonnenfeld, the associate dean at Yale School of Management. Titled “Three Cheers for Charisma”, it’s an attempt at resstablishing the need for charisma in the senior executive post. The article is motivated in part on some recent academic studies (he doesn’t name which ones) trying to debunk the importance of charismatic leaders.

Sonnenfeld says, “Charismatic leadership is important both for substance and for the intangible confidence it represents to people.” Along with Pitt business school professor Bradley Agle, Sonnenfeld recently did a study of 250 major U.S. firms. (In this article they don’t name which ones.) They summarize the survey by saying:

The more charismatic the CEO, the better the firm’s performance was. Depending on the measure, roughly 10% to 15% of performance came from the degree of charisma of the CEO.

… In addition to personal dynamism and empathy, there is also a value put on authenticity, goal setting and risk seeking.

… Significant individuals still make a difference. Charisma still counts. As long as it is not confused with self aggrandizement.

I’ll try and get a copy of this survey. It’ll be interesting to contrast these findings with Jim Collins’ work in Good to Great.

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