Too much charisma can be a problem at work | Ladders

Too much charisma is a problem for leaders in the same way that too little is. Here's how you can have just the right amount.
Science of Work

Too much charisma can be a problem at work

We should all have problems like this.

Too much charisma is a problem for leaders in the same way that too little is, according to a study recently released in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study found that for leaders, “moderate” amounts are charisma make others perceive them as the most effective.

The research said that leaders with smaller amounts of charisma don’t perform as well because they don’t act as strategically as possible, and leaders with a lot don’t do as well because they don’t have enough “operational behavior.”

“While conventional wisdom suggests that highly charismatic leaders might fail for interpersonal reasons like arrogance and self-centeredness, our findings suggest that business-related behaviors, more than interpersonal behavior, drive leader effectiveness ratings,” Jasmine Vergauwe, a doctoral student at Ghent University and an author of the study, said in a statement.

While a “dark side of charisma” exists,  use it to your advantage.

The findings

Excessive charisma is when it isn’t beneficial anymore, or it gets in the way of being effective. Here are some of the findings:

Study 1 said questions from a specific survey gauged “trait-based” charisma successfully. It said, as in other cited texts, “charismatic persons are typically described as energetic, assertive, talkative people who inspire others by generating a lot of enthusiasm. Moreover, inventiveness, imaginativeness, and originality reflect their creative minds, whereas their carelessness may reflect risk-taking behaviors.”

Study 2 showed, across groups, leaders with “moderate” charisma seemed most “effective,” unlike those with a little or a lot.

Study 3 found that low-charisma leaders seem less effective than ones in the middle, because the don’t act as strategically. Ones with a lot also were less effective because they took fewer “operational” actions — that is, they lacked the ability to get people to get things done more quickly.

How to boost charisma

Based on outside research, the researchers elaborated on how leaders can improve their performance: Ones with high charisma might benefit most from coaching in the operational department. Ones with less could improve how they strategize with a program that emphasizes planning for the future and being more skeptical of the way things are.

In a related study, MIT’s Alex Pentland researched “honest signals” — described as “unconscious factors such as the way one person’s speech patterns match the other’s, the level of physical activity as people talk, and the degree to which one person sets the tone — literally — of the conversation.”

He told the Harvard Business Review about how these non-verbal cues can be used to understand what’s really going on in social situations, shedding light on the role of charisma in the office.

A Forbes article describes how the MIT team tried to gauge leaders’ charisma at a cocktail party based on various factors. Later, the leaders presented business plans for judges. The research team successfully predicted who would have the more successful presentations, based on their behavior in the first setting (without seeing or hearing the presentations). The researchers reportedly saw how powerful the participants’ “social signals” were. The executives who fared well pumped up their energy by doing more taking and listening and by detecting how others acted and asking more questions.

Up your charisma at work — just don’t overdo it.