Unit 4- L09- The Trap of Pseudo-Charisma

While I was reading the lecture this week one of the questions jumped out at me- when I stepped back to consider leaders in my life who I regarded as charismatic, I was struck by some that actually seem to be pseudo-charismatic on close examination. I thought about highly popular, well-liked leaders from my life: sports coaches from my youth, teachers, advisers, coworkers, and supervisors who all seemed to have that special certain something that could be described as charisma. Some do seem to be the real deal- having had a “lasting, positive impact” on my life and displaying ethical behavior as a role model (Pennsylvania State University, 2016). Northouse (2015) describes charisma as “a word that was first used to describe a special gift that certain individuals possess that gives them the capacity to do extraordinary things” (p.164). A trait perspective views charisma as “the combination of dominance, desire to influence, self-confidence, and strong moral values” (Pennsylvania State University, 2016).

The leaders I’d regarded as “charismatic” in my life were all confident extroverts who I admired and to a certain extent, idolized.  One undergraduate professor had all of the hallmarks of a charismatic leader and her classes were always packed with eager students ready and willing to be influenced. I’d always labeled her as charismatic in my mind, but taking a closer look, her personality falls more in line with pseudo-charisma.   

To me, the biggest difference between charisma and pseudo-charisma is the sense that a truly charismatic leader has strong moral values. I looked up to this professor, and myself and other students trusted her without ever really questioning if her behavior was ethical. A natural extrovert, she shared her life with her classes, and thrived on rapt attention and interest from her students. Looking back on it now, she was just over the line into narcissism, which was reflected in her desire to obtain positive feedback in the form of evaluations from students. Her desire for perfect reviews outweighed her obligation to provide complete, thorough instruction to her students. She often spent a large chunk of lecture time telling hilarious stories and leading off-topic discussions, which we students loved at the time. Her classes were fun and attendance was high- test scores unfortunately, did not always follow suit. Students started to point out missed test questions based on material she had never covered in lecture and a pattern emerged of her throwing out those test questions. Everybody won- or so we thought. True, our grades didn’t suffer but that wasn’t our professor’s primary concern- her priorities were self-serving all along. She remained popular, with excellent evaluations and attendance records but what appeared to be concern for her students was just a front for her own self-serving goals. I think a truly charismatic leader would have behaved differently- placing students first and taking seriously the obligation a professor has to cover the material and administer fair assessments. A disservice was done to the students through this professor’s narcissistic, pseudo-charismatic tendencies and none of us realized it at the time. We assumed that someone with those “personality traits that mimic true charisma” would have our best interests at heart (Pennsylvania State University, 2016).

It’s interesting, and a bit distressing, to see how easily pseudo-charisma can be overlooked or mistaken for true charisma in a leader.     



Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Pennsylvania State University. (2016). Lesson 09: Personality. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390


  1. Husiela Farani-simmons March 27, 2016 at 10:53 PM #


    Wonderful blog post. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I wrote about something similar. I struggle with the notion of Charisma as a component of effective leadership. I think there is inherent gender and cultural bias that is built into that. I work globally, and what we find charismatic in the US is not charismatic in Western Europe or Asia etc. For example, in the US we often pair extraversion and charisma. That does not necessarily translate well internationally and even domestically, it is a stretch.

    I also struggle with the “moral” component of the description of charisma. Realistically speaking, these are nebulous concepts that need defining in an organization. What is moral to some may not be moral to others. Some people’s moral compass is driven by religion others take other factors into consideration. I think it’s a bit lazy when leadership development uses unquantifiable, loaded terms like charisma and morality, values etc. to define leadership. These are fabulous concepts that create amazing imagery in people’s mind’s based on what they think/believe to be charismatic, moral, just etc. Organizationally, in order for these concepts to be actionable and viable, work has to be done to identify and quantify behaviors, skills, and competencies that are desired in leaders and then training and OD programs have to be designed to drive those factors home.

  2. Andre Laurence Loney March 27, 2016 at 8:59 PM #


    This was a lovely read because it made me consider if anyone I had worked with as well has been participating in Pseudo-charisma, and there actually have been a few that are closer to home then I realized. When I became a manager, I devoted my purpose into ensuring I develop my coworkers as my primary course of action. By doing so, this helps me out immensely in my day to day actions as well as pushes my coworkers towards their goals and seems a whole lot more authentic than leading to attain my own goals. I guess my thought here is was the teacher aware of the facade she portrayed and was she even aware that her actions were inaccurate. I mean I relate this to some situations I have been a part of and based off of some other people I have viewed as pseudo-charismatic. Now my company is rooted around values that all in management speaks through in their day to day actions but remember “some people who rise to the top of an organization appear to be friendly and concerned for others, even though they actually are self-serving (PSU, 2016).” One lady in particular that I work with is one of those that knows how to use the words effectively, but her actions are called into question regularly by all she’s worked with in her past due to her difficult nature. She works in a “my way or no way” approach, fully disregarding the approach in certain scenario but bases her words around satisfying the consumer which is more or less laughable. Naturally upon first meeting she seemed genuine but it changed quickly when realizing the truth hidden behind her many words. She has been sent all over the world for our company to practice and understand the values, so it is an absolute shame that she hasn’t attained it yet. It was not until recently that she has come to terms with the fact that maybe she is not leading (or managing effectively) which is highly evident by the lack of development that occurs underneath her. Maybe your former professor needs some new awareness to make her realize her falsehoods, and hopefully someone can provide that for her.

    Pennsylvania State University. (2016). Lesson 9: Personality. [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com

  3. John K. Theiring March 27, 2016 at 8:53 PM #


    It is fascinating how people at first may seem Charismatic because they are outgoing, entertaining and appear to have other people’s interest at heart. But with enough interaction you soon see through all the surface level smoke and mirrors and see the true self. I think people feel betrayed when they follow someone that motivates them only to find out the leader has ulterior motives or is immoral/unethical. The five traits of the FFM of personality can be used as in a positive and beneficial manner, or they can be used for self indulgence and self serving manner. It is up to us how we decide to use our abilities. Too bad more leaders don’t user their powers for good and the benefit of all.

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