When Charisma Outpaces Character

Dave Blundell
Published on:
December 21, 2022

What happens when charisma outpaces character in a leader? Charisma is on display for everyone to see and character can be harder to spot.

The oldest leadership theory in existence is the “great man” theory. It proposes that a host of charismatic traits are common to leaders, and if one exhibits these traits, they are in fact a leader. It has long been replaced by many, much better leadership theories which are more aligned with how Jesus led. Unfortunately, we all still have a special place in our hearts for charisma, superheros, and people who exhibit the traits we still associate with power. These are often the kind of people we wish we were like. The “great man” theory is dead among those who study leadership, but very much alive around the world. 

I am beyond convinced the “higher” a leader climbs, the more people they lead, the greater the title, the less teachable and self-aware they become. We assume our success is related to our charisma and more of the same is needed for greater impact. These leaders are incredibly dangerous. Great power without great humility is a recipe for human carnage. When charisma outpaces character in the Kingdom of God, we do eternal damage. 

Charisma is obvious, and character not so much. Sometimes charisma even looks like false humility. So, what can we look for as outward signs that charisma has outpaced character? 

             • When leaders are quick to blame others for problems in the organization.

             • When leaders don’t ensure they are evaluated regularly by 360 evaluations.

             • When leaders surround themselves by “advisors” rather than a higher constituted authority such as a board.

             • When leaders don’t have mentors, coaches or therapists.

             • When people around the leader feel a lack of psychological safety.

             • When people don’t feel they can question or challenge the leader.

             • When a leader has an ”in” and an ”out” group.

             • When the leaders “brand” is more important than the team.

             • When the leaders stops learning.

The list could go on and on. The point is obvious, if leaders don’t prioritize inner development for themselves and everyone in the organization, character formation has stopped.

Conferences and courses about skills must come second to intentional character development. 

The western church is currently living through the wreckage of mega-church and ministry leaders who placed charisma before character. And these are only the ones we know about. We can assume there are many small churches and ministries experiencing the same damage that just aren’t as high profile. 

If you are a senior leader, a board member, mid-level manager, or anyone who cares about the impact of your church or ministry, become an un-ashamed advocate for leadership formation and accountable for character development. Ask really hard questions, especially when you're led by a leader with lots of charisma.

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