Late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs spearheaded the company’s wild success and changed the lives of millions of people.
So it follows that he’s somewhat of a legendary figure for leaders at all organizational levels who are looking to guide their teams to greatness.
But if you’re a manager seeking a role model, you’d be wise to shift your focus from someone like Jobs to someone who’s less often in the spotlight. That’s because the majority of successful leaders aren’t charismatic and attention-grabbing like Jobs was — they’re actually somewhat “boring.”
That’s according to business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., who says that the reason Steve Jobs became Steve Jobs wasn’t because he was charismatic. It was because he had a gift for predicting the markets and building creative teams.
Trying to emulate a personality like Steve Jobs’s will backfire for most people, Chamorro-Premuzic says, because they don’t have the talents to back it up.
All the media attention that’s given to Jobs and his legacy, as well as political figures like Donald Trump and Barack Obama, leads us to believe that all successful leaders are charismatic. But if we broadened the spotlight to include every manager on earth, we’d see that charisma is generally a poor predictor of successful leadership.
In fact, charisma is sometimes merely a cover for “dark” personality traits like narcissism, because narcissists are especially skilled at managing the impression they make on other people. Chamorro-Premuzic estimates that between 20% and 30% of charismatic leaders are also narcissists.
“All the data indicates that, although some people may have these dark side characteristics and manage to create successful companies like Steve Jobs, in reality most of the people who display these characteristics are poor leaders,” Chamorro-Premuzic says. “Most of the good leaders in the world are actually much more stable, well-adjusted, and humble.”
Chamorro-Premuzic is referring to research suggesting that a moderate degree of narcissism can boost leaders’ performance — but excessive narcissistic tendencies are detrimental.
Charisma “helps you seduce people so that they can’t evaluate your actual talents,” Chamorro-Premuzic says, adding that we often mistake charisma for confidence.
It’s not just laypeople who fall into the trap of thinking charisma signals leadership potential. Some organisations make the same mistake, Chamorro-Premuzic says.
While companies like Google and Amazon have gotten pretty good at measuring leadership potential and effectiveness, the average organisation still rates managers based largely on subjective evaluations.
That means they inevitably rely on demonstrations of extroversion, political skills, and charisma — when they should really be looking for evidence of emotional stability, maturity, and altruism. In C-suite positions, the ability to think strategically, foresee problems, and demonstrate good judgment is key.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of leaders who are both charismatic and competent because they put their charisma to good use. In particular, Chamorro-Premuzic cites Pope Francis and Nelson Mandela.
Bottom line: While you can emulate the incredible drive of someone like Steve Jobs, don’t try to copy their charisma. Instead, focus on demonstrating emotional stability, maturity and, most importantly, on developing the people who make up your team.
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