By Gloria Lombardi

‘Why Good Leaders Don’t Need Charisma’ was published in March 2013 by MIT Sloan Management Review. The study examines 100-year old European companies and reveals that ‘Intelligent Conservatism’ – not charisma – is the vital component for a successful leadership style.

Professor Christian Stadler (pictured at right) of the University of Warwick who conducted the research with fellow Strategic Management Consultant Davis Dyer, shared his insight based on the some of the major findings of the study.

Gloria Lombardi: Explain the background and aim of the study.

Christian Stadler: The study aimed at analysing the leadership style that contributes to drive outstanding transformation and achieve a company’s long lasting success. The background of the research was originated by two set of data flowing together. The first data came from a work focused on how 100-year old European companies succeed. The second set of data was originated by a separate work that looked at individual CEOs, the ones nominated for ‘Manager of the Year’ by the Manager Magazin in Germany. The two sets of data together provided the database for this study.

GL: What did you find remarkable from the two sets of data?

CS: By looking at the research on how 100-year old European companies achieve success, it emerged – not surprisingly – that leadership plays a role. However, what surprised us was to find that it was not the ‘charismatic superstar’ to drive the company’s success – what you would commonly read on the media as being the most desirable leadership style – but quite the opposite. This was confirmed by looking at Germany’s Manager of the year: 6 out of 18 fared badly in later years.

GL: What does your new study reveal? What is ‘Intelligent Conservatism’ exactly?

CS: The study reveals the adoption from successful and long lasting companies of a leadership style that we called ‘Intelligent Conservatism’. Leaders who adopt this style drive the company success by really listening to their people, engaging and allowing them to be part of the decision-making process. ‘Intelligent’ also means that, yes, leaders can make mistakes, but they will also make re-adjustments by consulting and engaging with the people of their company. In most cases, these leaders are internal candidates and not someone brought from the outside. They have in-depth understanding of the organisation. Before undertaking structural changes these leaders take into consideration how the company functioned in the past and don’t deliberately destroy its culture. With both this approach and background, these leaders don’t ignore where the company comes from. This is what constitutes the concept of Intelligent Conservatism.

GL: What doesn’t really work with a charismatic leadership style?

CS: Charisma is not necessarily bad. What happens with the charismatic leader is that their power and persuasive style make it less likely for people to resist and oppose a chosen course of action. Charismatic leaders are not the types of people who spend a lot of time to talk with and listen carefully and into details to their people. They know where they are going and think their own opinion is the correct one. However, this style throws away the opportunity to get a much wider variety of opinions and take more solid decisions in the end. If the decision is correct the charismatic leader moves followers and company into the right direction, in an efficient and fast way. However, if the charismatic leader preaches something that is wrong, both the people who follow the leader and the company move to the wrong direction. This is the danger a company faces with a charismatic leader at the top.

GL: Could you give some examples of truly successful leadership?

CS: A good example is Shell under the leadership of Cor Herkstroeter. In 1995 they embarked on a big transformation journey but decided to take its time. Rather than introducing structural changes a behavioural change program was developed, preparing the organization for bigger changes. These followed in 1999, when the oil price fell below 10$ a barrel – a situation when everyone was prepared for more dramatic changes.

GL: What advice would you give to leaders and organizations? Can the Internal Communications function play a role in supporting a leader to develop this style?

CS: To Leaders: listen to other members of the organization. To organizations: choose leaders who listen to the organization.

Internal Communication is a support function and can help the communication process. However, it is the leader who calls the shots. While internal communication can support, in the end it does go back to the leader.


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate