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Leadership: Leaders, Followers, Environments by Art Padilla

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Charisma and narcissism

In common usage, charisma refers to attractive aspects of an individual's personality that, in the opinion of some people, sets that person apart and makes him or her seem exceptional in some way. Many of us refer to self-confident individuals who are engaging or fun to be with or energetic and charming or uniquely articulate as “charismatic.” It is useful to remember, however, that charisma is in the eye of the beholder: Osama bin Laden, Bill Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher were charismatic and inspirational to some but not to others.34

Why speak about charisma, narcissism, and toxic leadership in the same section? After all, we want our leaders to display attractive traits and admirable behaviors. Some charisma, self-confidence, decisiveness, and visionary thinking are not bad things. But too much might be as bad as too little. Charisma has a dark side. Exceptional qualities that make some individuals appeal to others, characteristics that make others follow and even worship them, are not always used for the common good. Many charismatic leaders exhibit extreme self-confidence, dramatic flair, willingness to test the limits, and expansive visionary thinking. They make strong initial impressions, especially in the hiring or in the rising to power process. Although charismatic leaders have great personal appeal, their magnetic characteristics are sometimes used for self-promotion rather than the good of the organization, while taking clever advantage of vulnerable ...

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