Myth 2: Do you need Charisma to build a successful business?

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This article is the Second part of a series of articles on 7 Myths about building a business. Today’s article deals on Myth 2:Successful business requires great and charismatic visionary leaders

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.

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Yet he is the richest man in Africa and 43rd in the world.

When you read business news and advice, it is easy to get the impression that the most important factor to grow a company is a charismatic, high-energy leadership style. The likes of Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Richard Branson comes to mind.

While the energetic and charismatic personality may play its role in the success of a business, its presence or absence will not determine a business success. Leaders come in different temperaments. And no one temperament is better than the other.

Martin Luther Charismatic Leader

Do charismatic leaders outperform their more ordinary counterparts over the long run?

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.

When a team surrenders their hope behind an individual and not process, choose charisma and not logic, and accepts speeches and not dialogue, then we are surrendering our own responsibilities and thus our own freedoms to a figure.

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 states 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 recognising who he was. There was little record about him, and he never made it onto Fortune magazine’s, “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 he had a charismatic leadership style. The references that did mention his personality, describes 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.

What if high energy and Charismatic is not your style?

Several business books will try to teach you the charismatic style of leadership and communication. What some of such 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 a potential business success.

Based on psychological evidence, we develop and adopt our personality traits relatively early in life through a combination of genetics and experience. Becoming an entrepreneur will not automatically take your personality away.

Trying to develop a style that does not come naturally to you will be a waste of energy. If this has been your worry about becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business, here is an advice from Jim and Jerry – 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 this article does not promote mediocrity. Developing effective leader and communication skills are very important aspect of building a business. And entrepreneurs must continuously strive to cultivate their leadership skills. The point is that, there is no definite style of leadership required to become a successful entrepreneur and business owner; charismatic or not.

What is more important than personality style?

It is effective management of human and material resources and not charismatic leadership that builds sustainable competitive advantage and fosters the process of innovation.

Leadership charisma is not a sustainable basis for successfully building a company or managing any type of organisation, or even a nation. Adolph Hitler and Sani Abacha were powerful leaders, but poor managers. Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela were not well known for their charisma as much as they were known for earning and giving respect. They didn’t dictate as presidents rather they managed.

The economic and political problems in Nigeria today transcend leadership to poor management. Most of our past and present leaders lack management skills.

Your goal is to focus less on your style and desire to inspire and motivate with motive effort, and focus more on the process of management, continuous improvement, systematic innovation, logic and on the customer. As a result, you will grow sales and profits and the quality of your team, which are the bases for business.

This article is the second part of a series of articles on the 7 Myths about building a business.

Myth 1: “It takes a great idea to start a business”

Stay tuned for coming part of the series.


  • Ikenna Odinaka C. is a Writer, Career Development Professional, Entrepreneur, Educator and Investor. He is the founder of, and He has also co-founded other businesses in Education, technology and media industry. He is passionate about the future of work, entrepreneurship and helping young people explore opportunities to develop their financial capability. You can read his best content on and watch his insightful videos on YouTube

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