The Darkside of Charisma


Last week I posted about how to improve your charisma. This week I thought it equally important to bring up the dark side of charisma. Charismatic leaders are often thought of as heroes that are able to use their personal allure to lead others.  We have learned about inspirational leaders like Gandhi, Kennedy, or Obama, but charismatic leaders can also be a curse on society.  That is because while charisma can be used for the good of a company or nation, it may be used for less-than-honorable reasons as well. It is thus imperative to recognize that leadership can be used for good or for evil. I would like to present some of the consequences that occur when the dark side of charisma is tapped into (Yukl, 2006).

  • Being in awe of the leader reduces good suggestions by followers.
  • Desire for leader acceptance inhibits criticism by followers.
  • Adoration by followers creates delusions of leader infallibility.
  • Excessive confidence and optimism blind leaders to real dangers.
  • Denial of problems and failures reduces organizational learning.
  • Risky, grandiose projects are more likely to fail.
  • Taking credit for successes alienates some key followers.
  • Impulsive, nontraditional behavior creates enemies as well as believers.
  • Dependence on a leader inhibits development of competent successors.
  • Failure to develop successors creates an eventual leadership crisis.

Despite all of the adverse consequences, not every a negative charismatic leader is doomed to failure. There are many examples of narcissistic charismatics who established political empires, founded prosperous companies, or initiated new religious sects and retained control of them throughout their lifetimes. You may have learned about Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, Bernard Madoff, and Jim Jones – all these people fit into the category of leaders showing the dark side of charisma. If you aspire to be a leader or you already are, you should know that your influence and power can be used for good or evil and that choice is up to you.



Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


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