Consider the Heroic Leader: Is Charisma the Mark of an Authentic Leader?

leadership style May 24, 2024

Let me tell you about Jeremy (not his real name), the master of charisma and grand gestures. Jeremy was a senior-level leader in one of my client organizations. This guy was the epitome of charisma, always drawing attention to himself. Jeremy was known for wooing stakeholders and customers with colorful language and emotional appeals. He told people exactly what they wanted to hear, even if it meant making various promises to distinct groups.

I might add that consistency was not his strong point – nor was transparency or honesty.  

The Master of Grand Gestures and Duplicitous Behavior

Jeremy was a master of grand gestures. Even though he played a minimal role in money allocation decisions, he muscled his way into becoming the public face of all company philanthropic efforts. Jeremy also frequently appeared as the star of organizational initiatives in the community.

He claimed to stand up for the little guy and fight injustice inside or outside the organization.  However, behind closed doors, his behavior told a different story. Jeremy’s decisions and actions always focused on furthering his career, loyalty, and commitments aside.

I remember when an employee struggled because she felt her values did not align with the organization. She began to work in opposition to the organizational mission and strategy. Jeremy positioned himself publicly as the hero. He claimed to her and others that he heard her concerns and would serve as her advocate. However, not only did he fail to support her with the senior team, but he also failed to hold her accountable for her behavior, which worked against the organization's best interests.

Building Relationships, the Jeremy Way

Jeremy knew how to build relationships with influential people, albeit self-serving and transactional. His charm was undeniable, and he leveraged it to climb the social and career ladder, gaining favors and support from critical figures outside the organization.

The Reality Inside the Organization

But inside his organization? It was a different story. People saw through his flashy exterior. They didn’t trust him and didn’t like working for him. His team felt neglected and unappreciated, leading to low motivation and morale.

That's where I came in as his coach. Surprise, he tried to charm me, too. When I gave him a leadership assessment, he returned to his team, boasting about how his scores put him in the elite leadership sphere. He conveniently focused only on his strengths and ignored his weaknesses and challenges as he told this tale.

Reflecting on Jeremy's Leadership

Now, let me ask you – was Jeremy a good leader?

Jeremy's story raises important questions about what characterizes effective leaders.  Is it the ability to charm and woo important stakeholders or the capacity to build trust and respect within and without the organization? Jeremy excelled in the former but failed in the latter. His leadership was superficial, built on appearances and grand gestures rather than genuine relationships and integrity.

True leaders inspire and motivate their team members, earn their trust, and lead by example. Jeremy's inability to do so inside his organization highlights the discrepancy between being charismatic and good leaders. Leadership is more than appearances; it's about substance, trust, and genuine care for the people you lead.


Jeremy's story powerfully reminds us that charisma and grand gestures alone do not make a good leader. Authentic leadership requires dependability, trust, and a genuine commitment to the well-being of one's team and the organization’s mission. So, next time you encounter a leader like Jeremy, look beyond the charm and ask yourself: Do they have what it takes to be a truly great leader? Look at your aims and your style as well. What kind of do you aspire to become?



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