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Charismatic Vs. Transformational Leadership: Which is Better?

Man in office utilizing the transformational leadership development technique

It’s time to dispel the myth that leadership is a quality that always has to “look a certain way”.  As mentioned in our business management styles blog, people can effectively lead others with different approaches. The Everything Disc training series outlines 8 distinct types of leadership personalities, yet two people under the same category may have very different motivations for wanting to lead in the first place.

This is where another very important leadership classification comes into play: the difference between charismatic and transformational leadership. In short, charismatic leaders use their charming personalities to build loyalty and devotion among their followers, while transformational leaders rely on a collective vision to build trust and reach a goal. There are identifiable nuances to both approaches, and some leaders mix elements of both. Take some time to observe the leaders in your life, and notice the ways they inspire others. You will soon be able to identify the qualities of a charismatic leader and those of a transformational leader.

Charismatic Leadership

Have you ever talked to someone who just seemed interesting, even though there may not have been much substance behind what they were saying? Even if you completely disagreed with them, you may have noticed an unmistakable charismatic charm that made you think, I could see people buying the ideas this person is selling. A person with these types of charismatic skills always seems honest, trustworthy, personable, and passionate about an idea.

The biggest downside to charismatic leadership is that the ideas these leaders “sell” are completely up to them, and the followers have no say in the arrangement. These ideas could be good, bad, unprecedented, revolutionary, dangerous, exciting, or anywhere in-between. It’s up to the followers themselves to set aside all the allure of the person’s personality and decipher their true intentions.

It probably sounds like charismatic leaders are all manipulative schemers who are only in it for their own personal benefit, and while some will act this way, many others will not. A charismatic leader can effectively create positive change if they truly believe what they say and use their charismatic skills as a tool to make things better. Under ideal circumstances, followers can choose their own charismatic leaders based on ideas and merits that align with their own. This is why politicians often have very distinct personalities — they are using their public image to relate to a certain type of person. In a setting like a work environment, subordinates don’t get to choose their leaders, so leading with charisma alone is typically not an effective way to rally and lead a team.

Transformational Leadership

It’s time to face an ugly truth: not everyone has charisma. There are people who know their industries like the backs of their hands, but they lack a sense of charm that would make them instantly likable to a large group of followers. For these types of people, transformational leadership is the most effective way to influence others. With this approach, the leader identifies a collective vision that a group can identify with and get excited about. Ideas take precedence, rather than the leader themselves. Transformational leadership development takes time to master, but the results are often well worth the effort.

In transformational leadership, there is always a sense of transparency between the leader and their followers. The leader isn’t the only one doing the talking — the rest of the team’s thoughts and opinions contribute to the overall direction of the group. Transformative leaders must listen closely to their followers if they want to maintain their reputation as a trustworthy and reliable authority figure. That means understanding their followers’ strengths and aspirations, and using them as a catalyst to achieve larger organizational goals.

If transformational leadership sounds like giving the monkeys the keys to the zoo, think again. An effective transformational leader works to inspire individual or social change, and they never lose sight of their role in the process. This approach is more about substance than style; so transformational leaders will do everything they can to lay out the facts and their reasoning for a decision whenever possible.

A Hybrid Approach

The charismatic vs. transformational leadership debate goes on, but the truth is, they serve different purposes. A person with charisma is able to capture people’s attention effortlessly, which goes a long way towards creating unity in a group. On the other hand, without transformational leadership skills, that person could lead the group in the wrong direction.

If you want to lead in a way that not only keeps people engaged, but also incorporates their opinions for better decision-making, you will need to develop both types of leadership skills. Style and substance are always better together, so it’s important to strive to become a well-rounded leader. Don’t know where to start? Check out our leadership development training services to reach your full potential.


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