Being Charismatic and Wrong Is a Bad Combination

Audio Transcript

Let's talk about this charisma affliction for a moment.


Now, I've always been mystified by our addiction to the charismatic-leader model. I just don't get it. If you think about it, think about how many destructive things in the world have happened because of charismatic leadership. Hitler was charismatic and he led his nation right down the wrong path. Mao was charismatic, right? Being charismatic and wrong is a really bad combination.


Unless you know you're always going to be right, I would really worry about your charisma. So, the thing that we found is that most of the Good to Great leaders were not charismatic. I mean, they really weren't charismatic. The interviews with them were like pulling teeth. “Yes, no, I don't think so, why are you bothering me?”


These were incredibly inspired environments. What we learned with the Good to Great Level 5s is they did not have an inspiring personality. What they had were inspired standards. What's really interesting is when somebody just has these impeccable standards, the standards are what inspire.

George Cain at Abbott Laboratories had this incredible passion, that they couldn’t allow themselves to continue to be just average, and he looked at the things they could do. He started pointing to parts of the business where they had attained extraordinary results and excellence, and made contributions to patients’ lives. All he had to do was to point, “Look at the things we've been doing.” People got really excited about that because they could see the results, they could see the outcomes, they could feel the flywheel turning. What do people want more than anything else—the right people? They want to be part of something that just flat out works.

So, what the Good to Great leaders did was they didn't try to motivate to inspire personality. They set very inspired standards in keeping with who they were. Then they pointed to results and began to show, “Look, we've gone from two turns to four, four to eight, and eight to sixteen.” What people get really excited about is when they feel the momentum build in the flywheel, and that's what really motivated them.

Finally, the last thing I would point out is there's no question that a charismatic leader can inspire and motivate people. The downside, though, is it can be unsustainable. Everybody wondered, for example, what was going to happen to Walmart after Sam Walton. But, in fact, Sam understood that the real momentum and flywheel are the system, the people, the culture. All he did was get it started. Once people understood that, that system hasn't been any less motivated. For good or bad, it hasn't been any less motivated than when Sam Walton was running it.

Copyright © 2017 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.