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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cristina DiPietropolo

The Dark Side of Charisma

Charismatic leaders. We've all heard of them, and if we are honest, we would all like to be considered one. A charismatic leader is driven by their convictions and commitment to their cause. They are effective communicators skilled in persuasiveness and articulating a compelling or captivating vision to arouse strong emotions in followers.[i] Charismatic leaders have the capability of accomplishing great things while simultaneously inspiring us through their effective leadership. Consider Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, who promoted nonviolence and demonstrated perseverance and effective charismatic leadership throughout their lives to inspire and impact the world. However, when a charismatic leader turns to the dark side, we see the destructive and reprehensible outcomes of this leadership style. Consider Adolf Hitler and his ability to convince an entire country to do unspeakable acts against humanity to annihilate the Jews. Consider Jim Jones, who was able to deceive and manipulate approximately 900 people to commit mass suicide. These examples are evidence that charisma has the potential to reveal the dark side of human behavior. From a business leadership perspective, let's take a moment to distinguish the difference between a charismatic ethical leader and an unethical leader.

A charismatic ethical leader will place ego aside and actively focus on achieving organizational goals.[ii] They are receptive to differing views, promote dialogue, and are open to constructive criticism, characteristics correlated with high emotional intelligence. Ego can constrain the growth of a leader.[iii] The charismatic ethical leader recognizes the importance of feedback at all levels and strives to create an environment that fosters ongoing communication. This type of leader resembles a democratic leader, where the leader creates an environment where everyone can share ideas. While the democratic leader still makes the final decision, this collaboration enables everyone to participate in the decision-making process.[iv]

In contrast, an unethical charismatic leader is focused primarily on their own goals. They discourage others from expressing differing views, do not encourage open dialogue, and do not accept constructive criticism. They are defensive, inflexible, deceptive in their tactics, and use fear as a driving force to gain control over the people they are attempting to influence. This type of leader resembles an autocratic leader, where the leader controls all decisions and makes a conscious choice not to consider others' views in the decision-making process. Unethical charismatic leaders create an environment where followers blindly accept the leader's decisions without question. In the rare instance that followers begin to question the leader's motives, they will be verbally attacked by the leader and typically will refrain from speaking out because they fear retaliation.

Charisma is an effective means of making connections with people, so they are receptive to hearing a leader's message. However, we must be mindful of the danger zones of this type of leadership style where persuasiveness could be abused by unethical charismatic leaders whose sole purpose is to control outcomes for their gain. As a concluding thought, human resource professionals should be attentive to this type of leadership's danger and the long-term negative impact it can have on a company's image.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you want to learn more, our Emotional Intelligence training for practitioners contains all the materials you'll need to become an emotional intelligence expert and strengthen your leadership skills to help you cultivate emotional connections with your employees or clients. Email us at for more information.

Dr. Cristina Rosario DiPietropolo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience across multiple industries and highly skilled in the areas of strategic planning, organizational behavior, human resource management, change management, and leadership. Over ten years of teaching experience as a university professor of management, with a special focus on leadership in entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, and international management.

_________________________________________________________________________ [i]Riggio, R. E. (2012). What Is Charisma and Charismatic Leadership? Retrieved November 7, 2017, from [ii]Russell, J. E. A. (2016, March 18). Career Coach: Watch out for the dark side of charisma. Washington Post. Retrieved from [iii]Quy, L. (2017). Why most CEOs lack emotional intelligence. Retrieved November 7, 2017, from [iv]Bhatti, N., Maitlo, G. M., Shaikh, N., Hashmi, M. A., & Shaikh, F. M. (2012). The Impact of Autocratic and Democratic Leadership Style on Job Satisfaction. International Business Research, 5(2), 192. Retrieved from

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