Charismatic leaders are thought to have certain traits, but what exactly makes someone have charisma as a leader? “German sociologist Max Weber [defined charisma as] ‘Power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers.’” (Winkler, 2016) Both women and men should surely both have the same likelihood of having these characteristics. However, the few women that do hold leadership positions are often not thought of as charismatic leaders. Hillary Clinton is a prime example of what the public thought of as a female leader who was lacking in charisma. People did not find Hillary Clinton to be likeable or inspiring as a leader.
“Research from Harvard Business School posits a more exacting model, that inspiring leadership comes down to a combination of (conventionally) masculine and feminine characteristics—competence (ability to lead) and warmth (trustworthiness, empathy, connection). It is generally understood that women have had to err extravagantly on the side of competence—and jettison warmth—in order to be taken seriously as leaders. Davia Temin, a public relations expert who coaches CEOs, sees Clinton as “a victim of the need for women to grind out a lot of their emotion in order to be seen as competent.” (Winkler, 2016)
Often times, women find it hard to be seen as charismatic due to working so hard to prove themselves. There is little room for charisma when women need to put so much focus on proving to men that they can be competent leaders. In a male-dominated world, it is a challenge for women to get to the top and women who are perceived as emotional are perceived as weak. Therefore, women looking to succeed as leaders focus on ridding themselves of emotion and work twice as hard to prove themselves as strong, capable leaders. Unfortunately this leaves women in leadership positions seeming cold, unrelatable and uninspiring and does not make for a leader that people want at the end of the day.
However, at the same time, we have see that many men who are lacking in competence are able to become successful leaders simply due to the fact that they are viewed as being charismatic. Although, the reality for many of these male leaders is that they are, in fact, pseudo-charismatic leaders who are narcissistic and self-centered. So, amazingly, women work so hard to become capable and less emotional, thereby showing less charisma, just to lose out to incapable, pseudo-charismatic men.
“[W]hen it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women. This is consistent with the finding that leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders, and that these personality characteristics are not equally common in men and women.” (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2013)
At times, women are wrongly encouraged to embrace these pseudo-charismatic traits like narcissism, which is not a helpful approach either. As women are less likely than men to have traits such as being self-centered or egotistical naturally, this is just another way that women are encouraged to push their natural emotions aside to be more like men.
So, perhaps it is best for women in leadership positions to embrace their genuine personable and emotional sides rather than working to stifle them. It is a tricky balance for women and there is always still a risk of being perceived as weak as soon as emotion is shown. However, I do personally believe there is room for both emotion and capability in our female leaders. Without an emotional and personable side, there is no inspiration and there is no charisma. If we are going to decrease the number of incompetent, pseudo-charismatic male leaders and increase the number of competent female leaders, those females also need to be truly charismatic leaders.
Winkler, E. (2016). Hillary Clinton’s charisma deficit is a common problem for female leaders. Retrieved from https://qz.com/767739/hillary-clintons-charisma-deficit-is-a-common-problem-for-female-leaders/
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2013). Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/08/why-do-so-many-incompetent-men
PSY 533. (2017). L09. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l09-charisma?module_item_id=21902248