Charisma, Leadership, and Presidential Leadership

According to Max Weber, an important theoretical father for the modern science of leadership and influence, leaders gain power from traditional, legal-bureaucratic, or charismatic sources.  One recent study shows how less charismatic people can effectively wield influence, as noted by researchers from Wharton, Harvard Business School and UNC.  The key involves using a story structure, something similar to what we are used to seeing in film and television.

That’s not going to help another experts research on past Presidents.  You might not enjoy interacting with Washington, Jefferson, Adams or Madison.   Presidents like FDR, JFK, and Clinton raised the bar significantly.

“Charisma was really not very useful in the early presidencies,” he says. “There [weren’t] that many opportunities to deliver big speeches, and most of the major decisions were done behind closed doors.” As a consequence, Simonton says, most of the presidents from America’s early history were not particularly charismatic.

What impact does charisma have on one of the core needs facing organizations?

“There’s nothing about being a charismatic president that makes you more effective as a problem solver,” he says. “All that charisma does is enable you to influence people. As far as actually being effective, there’s no guarantee.”

via Charming, Cold: Does Presidential Personality Matter? : NPR.

And yet, Professor Simonton observes that there is some type of relationship between IQ and persuasion.

The relationship between IQ and persuasive influence over other members of one’s group may drop off beyond an IQ of approximately 120. Individuals who are very smart may be less comprehensible to other group members, and this might have a negative impact on their ability to influence those around them. Even if the exceptionally bright individuals are able to target their use of language to the needs of their audience, the complexity of their ideas may be less accessible to listeners with IQs more than one standard deviation lower than their own.

via Human Intelligence: Dean Keith Simonton



9 thoughts on “Charisma, Leadership, and Presidential Leadership”

  1. I quoten from a book by Norton Richardson “Patriarch: George Washington and the New Nation” ( that Washington knew he was not a great orator and said “With me it was always been a maxim rather to let my designs appear from my works than by my expressions.” I believe that charisma is a very imprtant and useful aspect of leadership, and it is easy to see how president presidents with charisma were able to pass more legislations. But my question is whether or not those legislations made U.S.A. a better place. Charisma doesn’t reflect a leader’s ability to solve problems as the article has introduced, though it may help leaders to appear to have one. Take Hitler, he had the charisma, but his policies were horrible. Meekness, on the other hand, can facilitate working on what a problem is, to a right direction. I argue that charisma is neither a necessary nor a sufficient quality of an effective leadership.

  2. When I think of charisma and the influences that it has I think of the president Dilma in Brazil. She was never known as a very charismatic person, the opposite from ex-president and friend Lula. Her lack of charisma did not affect the election and the policies ideas.
    On this web, agues that Dilma does not have the same type of charisma that Lula has. His is the charisma of the head, that expresses things more than words, that speaks the truth directly, and gives convincing speeches. She has the charisma of the hands, the charisma of actions. “The category charisma cannot be monopolized by one type of charisma, that of the creative word and the fascination it arouses. There are other types of charisma that do not necessarily pass through the spoken word.”

  3. Charisma is certainly one of the first characteristics that comes to mind when we think of the President of the United States; but this article does bring up a couple of interesting topics. I agree that charisma and leadership capability should not have such a strong correlation. (With all due respect, I think we’ve seen the consequences of choosing a charismatic president who seems to lack essential leadership characteristics.) Being an effective leader does not hinge upon the ability to deliver stirring speeches – I think this correlation is a product of our rhetoric obsessed pop movie culture. Actions truly do speak louder than words – a leader who leads by example is sure to win more hearts than one who leads through eloquent lip service.

  4. I think the rise of mass media has definitely fueled the need for charismatic, persuasive leaders. No decision seems to be made in secret since the media publicizes changes in politics, even things that supposedly happen behind closed doors. Just having charisma isn’t enough, though. If leaders want to use that attribute to their advantage, they need to know how to channel that energy through mass media sources to draw their audience in, wherever they may be. President Obama epitomized this principle during the 2008 campaign because he was exceptionally good at getting people to catch his vision, even if they weren’t physically in the same place as he was. As mentioned before, being able to convince people that your viewpoint is correct doesn’t make a person an effective leader. It is useful when it comes to campaigning though since charisma is magnetic and campaigning is all about gathering followers.

    Here’s an article from TIME magazine about how charisma relates to presidential politics:,9171,1909616,00.html

  5. Tripartite classification of authority is a great tool to understand the different types of authority that presidents can have. Although not all the three authorities apply to a president necessarily, sometimes more than two apply to a president. Most of the time it has to do with the regime in place and the power of the leaders to show their authority in one or the other way. Looking at the case of Bashar al-Assad the president of Syria, he has traditional Authority that he obtained from his dad Hafez al-Assad, who was in power. He also has charismatic authority that he has implemented over time with the different propaganda that he uses in the country. However, if we look at presidents of United States they power is more based on legal-rational authority than charismatic authority because of the democratic process that is in place in the country and the importance of having fair elections.

  6. Honestly, the idea of having an extremely charismatic president scares me, especially when I think that I would probably vote for such a personality. Charisma is a very powerful tool that gives even more power to a US president, who is arguably the most powerful person in the world. All I can think of in such a situation would be a new Hitler. Adolf Hitler was one of the most charismatic people in modern history, and he convinced an entire nation that it was okay to kill 6 million Jews,. Maybe I just study history too much, or I have a trust complex, but I think that as we get more and more charismatic leaders, the more power the people will loose and the more the government, and the president will gain. (

  7. Charisma is defined as 1: Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.
    2: A divinely conferred gift or power.

    I think charisma is very important. Sadly. I say sadly because it is charisma is essentially necessary only because our political arena requires it to get anything done. As the article states Charisma does not make one a better decision maker or even a necessarily a better president. However, today more than even consensus, attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others is needed in Washington, in communities and between nations and religions. Perhaps, as the article below alludes, the second definition of charisma is needed and not just the first.

  8. I read the NPR article that is quoted above, and thought it was very interesting.

    At the end of the article there is an argument that George Washington probably couldn’t be elected in today’s political environment. We as Americans tend to want a charismatic president, and even though charisma is an effective tool when it comes to legislative victories, charisma does not necessarily make one prepared to make big decisions. When thinking about some of the presidents I respect the most, I worry that today’s focus on charisma would have taken away their chance to ever lead our country. Even Abraham Lincoln has been described as having a scratchy voice and being an awkward speaker. Charisma may be important to us, but I’m not sure that it’s important for our country.


    Arguing otherwise is ultimately pointless. It is a fact that the media in general favors the Democrats though there are many media outlets that are right wing. I believe that charisma is not necessary in American politics. That is because you don’t need to sell yourself to the American people, you need to sell yourself to the media. The media will then do its best to sell you (the candidate) to the people. Basically the only qualification is to not be a bumbling idiot.

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