The power of charismatic leadership in a small business

What constitutes 'charisma' in a business leader and why is it important? Here, we talk to small company figureheads about what the concept means to them.

Many people believe that charismatic leadership in business is all about having a ‘big’ personality, being the ‘life and soul’ of the party and being an inspiration to your reports.

Some feel that charisma is the ‘luck of the draw’ – that you were either born with it or not – and that it can’t be developed.

Global charisma guru Nikki Owen has spent years studying and researching charisma. Her definition: ‘Charisma is an authentic power that captivates the hearts and minds of others’.

There are people who claim to teach charisma who focus on superficial tips on body language, eye contact, voice tonality, appearance and so on. These elements might make you look more confident, but if it is not aligned with who you are at your core, it will appear fake and contrived.

Why develop our charisma?

Research by the University of Lausanne and The Harvard Business Review has shown that charismatic leaders outperform their non-charismatic peers by over 60 per cent.

One of the biggest challenges for businesses globally is employee engagement. More than 44 per cent of the global workforce intends leaving their employer within five years and more than 21 per cent intend leaving within two.

When interviewed, these disengaged employees said they were not being given the chance to explore their potential at work. They were feeling undervalued and demotivated.

Leaders often underestimate the effect of their mindset on the effectiveness, productivity and engagement on the whole organisation.

So, how important is charisma for leadership and corporate success?

Leadership development expert Sylvia Baldock says, ‘Have you ever worked in an environment where one negative person completely drains the energy of everyone else in the room? I call them ‘energy vampires’.

‘The reverse is also true. A charismatic leader can lift the mood and motivation of the whole team and build high levels of workforce engagement.’

Charismatic leaders get results

The Leadership Quarterly quotes a study by Joyce Bono and Remus Ilies, which finds that charismatic leaders have a stronger emotional effect and gain greater employee cooperation than their non charismatic counterparts.

Here, we learn from small business leaders about the value of charisma in a small business, and what it takes to be an inspirational figurehead capable of achieving tangible results, whether that’s getting the best out of staff or winning new clients.

Ryan Jackson, founder and CEO of car park management company Gemini Parking Solutions, discusses the value of engaging with his team to establish rapport.

Ryan Jackson

I was unemployed before setting up as a one-man band in 2012 helping small businesses control their parking. Entering a notorious industry, my aim was to make a positive change in this sector, focusing on customer service and inspiring employees.

Soon, I had so much business that I was able to take on two employees and the company has grown from there. Shortly after taking on my first employees I secured a contract with a large national restaurant group and Gemini now has a staff of 23.

“Charismatic leaders have a strong ability to influence in order to sell their vision”

There is a common misconception in business that you should adopt a serious persona if you want to be perceived as a professional and respected. But I think employees engage best when they are inspired, and to inspire someone you have to build an emotional connection. That connection is developed through sharing different aspects of your personality including humour, compassion and charm.

I like to engage with my team on a daily basis, from asking how their evening was to general office banter. This is key! It’s often taught as senior managers or business owners that we should set clear boundaries and only engage with staff on a professional level, but I feel this is an outdated way of thinking and one born out of ego. I want my team to realise their greatness, so I must be open in order for them to recognise the similarities between me and them as there is no reason why they cannot achieve the same success as I have.

Charismatic leaders have a strong ability to influence in order to sell their vision. So, my approach to leadership is built upon forming strong connections with my network so that I establish rapport and ultimately, they put their trust in me.

Charisma can definitely be developed and is built through confidence of who you are and owning it. Like most traits some people are naturally abundant is that area while others have to work at it, but irrespective of where you are on the spectrum it can be nurtured in order to further both your business and personal life.

Humour and integrity are the essence of charismatic leadership, says Helen Jamieson, CEO of HR consultancy Jaluch.

Helen Jamieson

I founded Jaluch, a HR consultancy and training provider to provide organisations with advice and support to build better teams. We now work nationwide with clients including Visa, Bupa, the IPCC and Great Ormond Street hospital.

Previously I was employed by a corporate in an HR role, and ultimately lost my job as a result of having a baby. I couldn’t bear the thought of being a stay-at-home mum; I needed to use my brains, so after losing my job I set up a business delivering an employment law support service for small businesses. I set up with virtually no cash, initially as just a sole trader wanting to earn a living.

I think people find me charismatic as I’m so passionate about what I do. I’m determined to leave my mark on the world and set standards in quality, customer care. I also want to raise standards in my own profession, fighting to make things better for those who come behind. My eyes light up when I talk about these things.

“Charisma can be learned, or discovered and unleashed”

I lead with humour and integrity and, above all people comment on the fact that I don’t follow the crowd. Instead I look for change, drive for ‘better’ and fiercely protect those who work for me and are loyal to me. I love nothing better than see someone with low self-belief blossom and flourish as a result of working at Jaluch, or see those just starting out open their eyes to how amazing they can be, or see those who are jaded by lousy management experience a far more positive way to behave.

The days of autocratic leadership are over. Now leaders need their staff to want to follow, not have to follow. Jobs in companies that treat you disposably are the norm. Jobs in companies where people are valued, nurtured and treated like colleagues are not the norm. but for how much longer?

The tide is truly turning with employees and applicants demanding choice, and focusing more and more on values, which comes from a leader who can passionately demonstrate those values. Charismatic leadership, leading through values, ensures great staff want to work with you and great staff bring profits and sustainability. A business imperative.

Charisma can be learned or discovered and unleashed. I think many of us find our passions and our vibrancy as we go through life rather than are born ‘charismatic’. A child or young adult may not be seen to be charismatic, but with the right stimuli anyone can find their passion, their excitement, their drive and enthusiasm and that in turn can create an energy that people call charisma.

Further reading on charismatic leadership

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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