A leader sets the tone—they have the power to inspire and encourage their team to do amazing things or to discourage their team and keep them from being innovative and creative. According to research, when a leader is confident and creative, their team also exhibits more confidence and creativity. It is also essential for leaders to build trust, mutual respect, and loyalty with their team members.
Charismatic leadership doesn’t look the same from person to person. Many CEOs and politicians are charismatic leaders while having their unique strengths and weaknesses.
Before we look at six different types of charismatic leaders, let’s define what charismatic leadership is.
What is Charismatic Leadership?
Charismatic leadership is the intersection of warmth and competence. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that when leaders portray both of these qualities, they tend to be charismatic.
Warm people are often described as friendly and trustworthy, while competent individuals are considered dependable and skilled. If one is warm but not competent, they may not be reliable, while people who display competence without warmth look cold, and people may envy them.
As you can see from this diagram taken from Vanessa Van Edwards’s book Cues, there isn’t one single “right” spot on the charisma scale—some charismatic leaders show more warmth while others look more competent.
Gary Yukl, the author of Leadership in Organizations, says that leaders who make personal sacrifices and take personal risks are more likely to be viewed as charismatic. You’ll see this in a moment with inspiring leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandella. They both faced imprisonment for advocating for human rights and leading their countries during hard times.
What Charismatic Leadership Style Are You?
How you answer these questions can give you a lot of insight into what type of charismatic leader you are and if you lean more towards warmth or competence. For each question, choose the answer that best fits you.
1. I believe that a good leader is…
2. I want to empower my team members to…
- Collaborate well
- Come to me with any concerns or questions they have
- Become leaders in their sphere
- Not be afraid of “failure.”
3. When I’m feeling stressed, I…
- Struggle with making decisions
- Worry too much about what others think of me
- Make snap decisions without considering how it will affect my team
- Hunker down in my office and study the data
4. If I made a mistake, I …
- Didn’t manage the time in the meeting well and didn’t cover everything on the agenda
- Over-promised something we may not be able to pull off
- Focused too much on the agenda and not enough on building a connection
- Jumped into problem-solving before I fully understood the situation
5. If my team meetings accomplish one thing, I hope that…
- My team feels valued and heard
- I can explain upcoming changes and address any concerns
- Everyone leaves feeling confident and equipped
- My team embraces this plan for getting out of our rough patch
If you mainly answered “a’s” and “b’s,” you fall on the “warmth” side of the charisma scale. You have strong empathy and are great with people, but you may need to work on being perceived as more “competent.” You’ll likely resonate with the encourager, clockmaker, or inspirer charismatic leadership styles.
If most of your answers were “c” and “d’s,” people know you can get things done and are well-informed. Take a look at the navigator, visionary, and cartographer. You tend to be as “competent” but may need to work on developing your “warmth” as you grow in your leadership abilities.
6 Charismatic Leadership Styles (& How They Work!)
Consider which of these leadership styles you resonate with. You may have one “primary” leadership style while resonating with bits and pieces from several other types.
As with most things, a person’s greatest strength can also be a weakness. It’s essential to be aware of both sides of the coin! Consider how you can use a deeper understanding of your unique leadership style to evolve as a leader.
This style of charismatic leadership focuses on being the team’s biggest cheerleader. The Encourager is an extroverted leader—they thrive with teams that collaborate regularly and are great at addressing client and stakeholder concerns.
Oprah is an excellent example of an Encourager. When we see her talking with someone on The Oprah Winfrey Show, we genuinely believe she has that person’s best interest in mind. She wants them to be able to share their experience authentically. Her warmth and charisma made her talk show run for 25 years and led her to be a household name.
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” – Oprah Winfrey
Encouragers are naturally good with people, are empathetic, and are kind when addressing the concerns of their team members. They feel most attuned to what is going on when they can meet with someone face-to-face (and are hopeful that zoom meetings will soon be a thing of the past!).
They know that the most effective communication happens in person. It allows individuals to build connections through small forms of physical touch, like high-fives and making eye contact with one another—which science shows makes what they say more memorable!
Words of affirmation come quickly to them, and they’re good at understanding people’s nonverbal cues and addressing concerns before they escalate.
As every strength has a weakness, encouragers may have difficulty holding authority. They need to remember that at the end of the day, their employees are not their best friends, and they are the team leader because they are capable and skilled.
In a meeting: The Encourager is enthusiastic and open to collaboration. They may call on people by name to ask for their input. They might start a discussion with a new conversation starter. They might make sure that every team member has a chance to speak their mind.
When faced with a problem: They might ask a few knowledgeable people close to them what they think is the best solution.
During a crisis: Encouragers might call a team meeting and ask everyone for input on navigating the crisis.
Weaknesses: They may struggle with being confident in themselves when making necessary decisions. They are also prone to people-pleasing and not stating their own opinions if it might cause tension.
Strengths: They are usually warm, and their team members know they are trustworthy. Encouragers are often the ones team members can rely on and come to when they need emotional support. They’re also great at encouraging other team members and motivating them to get things done.
The Peacekeeper understands that teams work well together when individuals feel valued and appreciated. They are exceptionally good at anticipating when a change might make people upset and dealing with it before it becomes a big issue. Their subordinates feel comfortable coming to them to address team dynamics.
If their work-life had a theme song, it would be, “We’re all in this together.”
This type of charismatic leader has vital people smarts and is excellent at resolving conflict between team members. They work hard to navigate tension and address interpersonal issues as they arise.
Mahatma Gandhi is an excellent example of a Peacemaker’s charismatic leadership style. Those who followed him knew that his work was motivated by a deep care for the people he led.
Although he was the leader of this peaceful resistance, he had a sense of humility that showed he did not see himself as more important than others. For example, he chose to wear a simple “dhoti” rather than western clothes to blend with the rest of the crowd.
The Peacekeeper’s team members trust them and confide in them—which allows them to understand what is going on and how to lead their team to the best of their ability. They tend to be relatively even-tempered and encourage their team with a warm smile and a genuine “great job.”
They are likely to pull a team member aside to give individual feedback. Their criticism is always constructive, meaning it intends to build team members up and help them grow rather than be discouraging or berating.
Peacekeepers tend to love people but be more introverted. They may struggle with focusing too much on team harmony and have difficulty achieving outcomes.
In a meeting: The Peacekeeper might hand out a questionnaire to make sure they heard from everyone present without having to push anyone too far out of their comfort zone by making them speak up in the team meeting. They would most likely stay aware of everyone’s body language and give a five-minute break when they noticed people’s eyes glazing over.
When faced with a problem: They might consider how various solutions would affect everyone involved and find a solution to the problem based on what is best for both the company and the individuals.
During a crisis: They would instead take the brunt of the additional workload themselves rather than overwhelm someone else. They might struggle to talk with investors and stakeholders during a crisis. Still, self-aware Peacekeepers would know that it is essential to overcome their stress and formulate a plan rather than shutting down and avoiding important meetings due to anxiety.
Weaknesses: The Peacekeeper may get bogged down with worrying about individuals and not meet the deliverables and deadlines they have. They might also struggle to delegate tasks to colleagues they know already have a full plate of responsibilities which may eventually lead to burnout from taking on too much additional work.
Strengths: People know the Peacekeeper values their time and resources and would want to see if they’re feeling overwhelmed with their workload. The Peacekeeper might be good at building interpersonal relationships with their team members and inspiring loyalty and trust from their subordinates.
Have you ever heard someone speak and just thought, “Wow”?
Winston Churchill, for example, had this effect on people. He arguably changed the course of the world by inspiring hope and courage during World War II. His top hat, bowtie, and cigar gave him a signature look, and his ability to speak well gave people confidence in his vision.
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill
Churchill led during a very challenging historical time. Many people looked to him for guidance and hope. He didn’t know what would happen. He couldn’t say that “everything would turn out fine,” but he could promise to defend the UK at whatever cost. This gave people someone to rally behind throughout the hard times.
While the Inspirer can see the end goal, they may struggle to handle the logistics of how to get there. They usually have a natural leader description. They are perceived as warm when speaking with individuals and confident when talking to a crowd. They may struggle with keeping track of details like dates and times and turning ideas into action steps.
In a meeting: The Inspirer might regularly remind people of the company’s mission and vision and make confident decisions aligned with those. They will likely come in with a plan and some notes but trust their ability to speak at the moment and stay sure to field questions that they didn’t concretely prepare.
When faced with a problem: Will keep morale high by “saying a few words.” Their subordinates trust their decisions and that they will do their best in complicated situations. They may struggle with impostor syndrome due to the confidence others have in them, but they do their best to make wise decisions.
During a crisis: They might calm people’s fears and make big-picture decisions while delegating the mechanics to a trusted teammate. Healthy Inspirers probably know that mechanics and details are not their natural strengths, so while they may be working to develop those skills, they understand that in a crisis, it is crucial to entrust that to someone who is naturally skilled in that way.
Weaknesses: They may struggle to break big ideas into concrete action steps that others can follow. They may forget to communicate changes until the last minute, which may stress team members out.
Strengths: They may have strong communication skills and be as likable in both smaller group settings and when they are on the big stage. They are naturally skilled leaders and understand that they need help from others to counterbalance their weaknesses.
When the storms get choppy, you want a navigator at your team’s helm. They lead from a place of quiet confidence and steadiness and tend to have a strong analytical side.
One of the greatest strengths of the navigator is that they can inspire trust in their team. They don’t sugarcoat a challenging situation—when there’s a storm on the horizon, they’ll call it what it is.
Steve Jobs is an example of a navigator. His attention to detail and concrete vision led Apple to be one of the largest tech companies in the world.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith…Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.” – Steve Jobs
Navigators are known as “just,” meaning that they will be fair and uphold what they believe to be morally right. They are competent and trustworthy but can be rigid as well.
If you resonate with the navigator, work on developing your warm side. Take advantage of “water cooler” moments to know your employees’ lives outside of work. And remember to give a genuine smile, one that reaches the corner of your eyes when you see them around the office.
In a meeting: The navigator likely wrote a detailed meeting agenda emailed to everyone ahead of time. Their communication in meetings may be blunt, which can benefit from being transparent and saving everyone time but may also hurt people’s feelings at the moment. They are typically strong with details and likely end the meeting by going over the action points that everyone is responsible for.
When faced with a problem: They may take time to gather all of the available information, both from individuals and data, before deciding on how to move forward. They rarely enjoy making a quick decision, and even on more urgent matters, will ask to have a few hours to think through what the best course of action is.
During a crisis: They will likely stay calm and collected. They have quiet confidence in their team and themselves, and their calm demeanor is grounded in the trust that they will weather the storm together.
Weaknesses: Navigators can struggle to look as warm and friendly. Data and facts drive them, which can make it seem to others that they do not understand the frustrations of the people they lead. Their subordinates may struggle to believe that the Navigator wants to hear their opinions and cares about their wellbeing.
Strengths: People trust the decisions that Navigators make and have confidence that they can lead through hard times. Navigators do not typically feel too stressed by course-correcting when a plan is not leading to the desired results.
This type of charismatic leader can see great potential in people and ideas. They are known for their ability to see what “can be” and help people reach that point.
They are known for having a solid idea of what they want. They prepare themselves to try as many different paths as it takes to get there.
“If you get up in the morning and think the future will be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.” – Elon Musk
Elon Musk is exceptionally good at innovation. As a leader, he encourages his team members to problem-solve in innovative ways and doesn’t get overly worried about if they don’t solve a problem on the first try. He doesn’t view an idea not working as “failure” but as a regular occurrence—this empowers his team to think creatively without fear.
The Visionary may get caught up in the big-picture and overlook the present moment. They can sometimes be challenging to work with if they don’t strive to develop their warmth.
In a meeting: The Visionary might ask for a team brainstorm so that they could hear from everyone involved. They might tell their team that there are no bad ideas, only “stepping stone” ideas—ones that help you get to the final destination.
When faced with a problem: The Visionary might jot down 15 different ideas for how to solve the problem. This helps them ensure they ultimately make the best decision rather than taking the first idea that came to mind. Once they have done this, they will likely feel confident and secure in their chosen path.
During a crisis: They understand the larger picture and delegate tasks efficiently. Despite how they may feel internally, their team will be able to look to them as a calm and collected leader who incorporates feedback, creativity, and values teamwork amid the crisis.
Weaknesses: The Visionary may struggle to co-lead teams or projects with others effectively. They are likely skilled at delegating but may be perceived as hard-headed when sharing the final decision.
Strengths: They are confident that they know where they want to go and get there. They often encourage others to think creatively, and they value outside input. However, they typically have confidence in deciding how to move forward with various projects.
The Cartographer is a leader who ventures into new spaces. They are innovators and creative problem-solvers. They dare to step into the unknown and tackle whatever comes their way. They are good at balancing many responsibilities and have the foresight to see how decisions affect the big picture.
This type of charismatic leader uses unconventional behavior to pave the way for needed change. Nelson Mandella is an excellent example of this type of charismatic leader.
In this clip from the 1995 Rugby World Cup, you can see Mandela shaking the hands of members of the South African Rugby team. At that time, Rugby symbolizes white supremacy in South Africa. By entering the stadium wearing a jersey, while giving the clenched-fist salute of the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela could bridge the gap so that no one before him had.
The Cartographer is naturally good at balancing many projects, but they need to be careful that they aren’t spreading themselves too thin. They speak eloquently, and their actions align with their words. They tend to make decisions based on what they believe is “right” versus “wrong” but are also typically good at remembering the nuances of communication and communicating well with the person in front of them.
In a meeting: The Cartographer would be able to confidently answer a range of questions, even if they did not specifically prepare for them. While their communication in meetings may be direct, they typically understand the importance of how something is said and can understand team dynamics and navigate workplace politics skillfully.
When faced with a problem: They think about the big-picture and make decisions accordingly. They often value following their moral compass, which informs how they mediate team conflict, manage stakeholder expectations, and make significant changes. Under stress, this may lead them to value doing the “right” thing overdoing the “kind” thing, but most experienced Cartographers remember that these are closely linked and highly valued.
During a crisis: They likely understand the importance of getting input from trusted advisors but know that at the end of the day, they are answerable for their own decisions.
Weaknesses: They can often overcommit, resulting in them dropping the ball on critical engagements. Because others recognize their competence, people ask them to do anything from being a board member of an organization to rising mentoring leaders—the Cartographer may have a hard time saying “no” because they see the value in all of these things. This may lead to them overcommitting and ultimately being unable to fulfill their promises.
Strengths: They can often lead to transformative times in the history of a company or country. They likely understand the importance of how they speak about decisions not only in-house to their team but also to others outside of the organization to inspire confidence and excitement.
Remember that charismatic leadership doesn’t have a cookie-cutter definition—there are many different types of charismatic leaders who balance warmth and competence in their unique way.
If you naturally have more warmth, work on developing your competence by referencing research, speaking authoritatively, and using body language that radiates confidence, like saying louder and taking up space.
On the other hand, if you’re naturally good at communicating competence, work on developing your warmth. Make eye contact when speaking with people, let your smile reach the corner of your eyes, and don’t be scared of showing solid emotions. Read up on these 15 workplace body language cues to better understand what other people communicate nonverbally.
If you’re interested in learning more about charisma, check out Cues.