Why You Don’t Need to be Charismatic to Build a Successful Business

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I once heard a business analyst describe Aliko Dangote’s speaking style as dull, non-energetic and non-charismatic. “He is not a classic example of the 21st-century businessman,” he said. This was an armchair professional describing the richest black man alive today as uncharismatic. You can only imagine how this stereotype of what a successful entrepreneur should look like has discouraged many people from taking the chance to dare their dream. In this article, you will learn why being charismatic is not a required quality to be a successful entrepreneur. In fact, studies found that being charismatic may turn out a disadvantage in the long run if care is not taken. Sounds interesting right?.

You see, when you read business magazines and publications, it is easy to get the impression that the most important factor to be a successful entrepreneur is the charismatic, high-energy leadership style. The likes of Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Vusi Thembekwayo comes to mind. On Forbes magazine, Inc, and Fortune magazine, you get this representation of celebrity entrepreneurship. You see a lot of young people trying to portray this image, even when it does not fit their personality. While those who cannot put up with the drama simple cave into the background.

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On the contrary, while the energetic and charismatic personality may play its role in the success of a business, its presence or absence does not determine business success. Leaders come in different temperaments. And no one temperament is better than the other. Let me prove that to you with some hard facts.

Charismatic Leaders Vs Uncharismatic Leaders


In the study of 100-year old European corporations, researchers found that leaders of the higher-performing companies were often not charismatic – and were in fact, less likely to be charismatic than the leaders of the lower-performing companies.

The problem with charismatic leaders, the researchers observed, is that exceptional powers of persuasion make it easy for them to overcome resistance and opposition to their chosen course of action. If your business is heading in the right direction, a charismatic leader will get it their faster. Unfortunately, if you’re heading in the wrong direction, charisma will equally get you there faster.

Gagan Buyani, co-founder of Udemy wrote a Twitter thread about the 90 percent of failure in Silicon Valley nobody talks about. He narrated his journey of starting another company, Sprig, raised $60 million, grew revenue to $20 million but ended up shutting down the business. Everyone – family, friends, investors and colleagues – thought he was doing great and he maintained the charisma of the entrepreneur who knew exactly what he was doing. The public treated him like a star, his dating life tripled but secretly he was nervous. In the end, the whole thing fell apart.

The unseen problem with charismatic leaders is that when a team surrenders their hope behind an individual and not behind the process; when people choose charisma over logic and accepts speeches and not dialogue, they surrender responsibilities and freedom to one figure. This may work for some time but not all the time.

You don’t need to be charismatic to build a successful business

In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras after studying 18 visionary companies state that: A high-profile, charismatic style is absolutely not required to successfully shape a visionary company.

While studying CEOs of successful companies, they came across the name William McKnight without recognizing who he was. There was a little record about him, and he never made it to Fortune magazines’ “National Business Hall of Fame”. Yet McKnight guided 3M – Minnesota Mining Manufacturing Company, an American multinational conglomerate – for fifty-two years, earning fame and admiration from businesspeople around the world.

There was no evidence that Mcknight had a charismatic leadership style. The references that did mention his personality, described him as “a soft-spoken, gentleman”. His biographer described him as “a good listener”, “humble”, “modest”, “slightly stooped”, “unobtrusive, quiet, thoughtful and serious”.

Masaru Ibuka of Sony had a reputation as being reserved, thoughtful and introspective. Bill Hewlett was a friendly, no-nonsense, matter-of-fact, down-to-earth farmer from Iowa. Procter and Gamble were stiff, prim, proper, reserved and deadpan.

If you bring it to the present day, we have the world’s most daring entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who can hardly make a coherent presentation. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, all have that awkward, nerdy personality. Yet these people have built super successful empires.

What if high energy and Charismatic is not your style?

There are many business books trying to teach you the charismatic style of leadership and communication. What some of these books fail to acknowledge is that this style will not be suitable for everyone. And not being compatible with this style does not make you less of potential business success. Don’t let anyone bully you into believing you lack the personality to be a successful entrepreneur because of your introverted personality. Based on psychological evidence, we develop and adapt our personality traits from birth and early in life through a combination of genetics and experience. Becoming an entrepreneur will not automatically change your personality.

Trying to develop a style that does not come naturally to you will drain energy. If this has been your worry about becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business, here is advice from the authors of Built to Last:

You do not need such style anyway… If you are a high-profile charismatic leader, fine. But if you are not, then that’s fine too; for you are in good company right along with those that built companies like 3M, P&G, Sony, Boeing, HP and Merck. Not a bad crowd.

Understand that I’m neither promoting mediocrity nor dismissing the importance of personal growth. Developing effective leader and communication skills are a very important aspect of building a business. And entrepreneurs must continuously strive to cultivate their leadership and communication skills. The point is that there is no definite style of leadership or communication required to become a successful entrepreneur and business owner; charismatic or not.

What is more important than personality style?

Instead of worrying about not having the charm of the Forbes 30 under 30 CEOs, focus instead on these;

  1. Resource management skill

Your ability to manage people, capital, material, and, of course, technology resources transcend the ability to charm people with words and appearance. In dealing with people, you need emotional intelligence. You should be able to identify people’s area of strength and put them where they’ll bring out their best. You need to be able to manage your finances effectively. In this modern time, you should be able to identify and deploy the right technology. None of these requires being high energy, charming individual. It is an effective management of resources and not charismatic leadership that builds sustainable competitive advantage and fosters the process of innovation.

  1. Strength of Character

Adolph Hitler and Idi Amin were powerful charismatic leaders but were terrible human beings. Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela were not well known for their charisma as much as they are known for giving and earning respect. Are you a reliable person? Are you someone people can count on? Do you value other people? These are more important traits you be looking out for.

  1. Your staying power

Life is tough; business is though. You may need to invest years of your time and effort before your business starts gaining traction. There will be many obstacles to overcome. Each day will bring its own challenges and victories. Do you have what it takes to absorb all the pressure and say, “let’s give it one more shot?”.

It’s going to be a lonely journey for the most part. People may see you as a strong, resolute person; some will criticize your decisions and actions. It’s your resolve and mental strength that will keep you going.

You want to focus less on your personality style and more on your desire to inspire and motivate others. Focus more on improving your resource management skills, and on your other area of strength. And most importantly, focus on the people you want to serve; your customers. As long as you can serve them well, the market does not care if you are a charismatic leader or not. So, don’t let the glamorous representation of entrepreneurship today fool you. The real game is not as glamorous.

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