Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

The Danger of a Charismatic Leader

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From Jeremy: This is a guest post by Mike Holmes. He is the founder of Tithehacker. The purpose of the site is to stir up a revolution of radical giving. Stop by and get a copy of his free resource “The Art of Hacking the Tithe 101”

I used to work under a charismatic leader. He was smart. Handsome. Always smiling. A “visionary.” And he knew ways to connect with people. He spearheaded new initiatives and new programs and then managed them.

The problem is when he left, all the initiatives, programs, projects, AND people were gone as well. Everything he created vanished! It was like he was never there.

Granted, he had leadership problems to contend with–the person over him wasn’t focused on growth. And since an organization will only go as far as its leader will take it, he couldn’t go as far as he wanted to.

After a while he got tired of banging his head against a “bronze” ceiling and left.

The problem with charismatic leaders is that WHATEVER they create leaves with them.

photo by Thomas Hawk (creative commons)

This is in stark contrast to being a leader of purpose.

Charismatic leaders tell the time; leaders of purpose build clocks. They understand their why.

Don’t get me wrong: nothing’s wrong with charisma. But “larger than life” leaders are over-emphasized. A true leader is someone who can build or rebuild something that will outlast them.

The differences between a charismatic leader (CL) and a leader of purpose (LOP) are as follows:

CL: Are the “heart” of an organization.

LOP: Build the heart of an organization.

CL: Recruit followers

LOP: Recruit and raise up leaders.

CL: Secure power for themselves

LOP: Give power away to other competent leaders.

CL: When they leave, move, or die the organization falters.

LOP: When they leave, move, or die the organization prospers.

For instance: look at king Saul and king David from the Bible. David spent the remainder of his life preparing his successor, while Saul didn’t. SO when David died Israel prospered without him. Unlike Saul, when he died his dynasty lagged “and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.” (2 Samuel 3:1 NKJV)

You are a leader.

Whether you have a title or not, you’ve been given some level of influence. You’re here to make some sort of difference.

Jesus said it best:

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 MSG)

As that leader, your job is to build something that outlives you. Why? Simple. All the success in the world means nothing if it crumbles after you are gone.

What kind of difference will you make?

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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20 Replies

  1. Ken

    Great post, Jeremy. Our culture is obsessed with charismatic personalities that get paid millions each year but don’t practice the timeless principles you have listed here.

  2. Michael put together a great post today. Charisma is valuable only if it accomplishes something deeper.

  3. Pow!!! I love this: “As that leader, your job is to build
    something that outlives you”
    Michael, this is awesome. Jeremy, you are generous 🙂 Thanks guys for sharing this!

  4. Dana Bennett

    I thought you were going to name Chris Guillebeau. I like some of the ideas he has come up with, but he is so UNTO HIMSELF that I can’t bear reading most of what he has to say. One of his latest blog posts involved running red lights and why he does that now. That’s craziness. He can break creative rules all he wants, but people from around the world want to live here in the US because we are law-abiding people – even when no one is watching, even when we don’t like the law. If we don’t like the law, we can work to get it changed. But all I could think was, now how useful is this to me in my personal growth and in building a business of writing? It will be interesting to see where he is in 5, 10 years from now.

  5. Mark

    Have you ever taken (or do you feel guilty for not having taken) your spouse on a horse-drawn carriage dinner date? These days there is something behind the horse(s) to catch the horse’s “debris”. In the old days, who cleaned up the mess? The pooper scooper. In my book, that isn’t the most noble of professions. As regal as the horse-drawn carriage may be, the pooper scooper plays an important role. Without him/her a mess is left behind and what else? It stinks…Charismatic leaders may not call their staff “pooper scoopers” but there’s usually a mess to clean up…

  6. Katharine Trauger

    Oh, I so cringe at people who say, “Follow ME! Follow ME!”
    Jesus said we were to follow Him. He said if HE was lifted up, HE would draw people. So many see Christianity as just another huge market. It is ugly.
    Thanks for making the distinction.
    We are to be fishers of men, yes, but for Jesus, not for self.
    Thanks, again.

  7. “…”fishers of men…but for Jesus, not for self.” I love that saying Katharine! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  8. Great insight Mark! I see nothing in being a pooper scooper…I’ve been a few in some jobs myself 🙂

  9. I’m have mixed feeling on this Dana…as I am a Chris Guillebeau. I absolutely LOVED $100 startup. But you are right it will be interesting to see where he is in a few years.

  10. Thanks Joseph! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m also grateful to Jeremy for allowing me to post!

  11. Nothing sound is ever built on personality…its always built on principles and truth. Personally, I have nothing against charisma (which is also translated to “grace”) Jesus had charsima. So did Peter. As did David. Charisma can be a plus if its balanced with wisdom and humility. But left to itself…oh boy!

    Thanks Ken!

  12. Jeremy, I just want to thank you for allowing me to post on your blog. It was an honor and a privilege 🙂

  13. Powerful thoughts Mike. Charisma is great..but it’s nothing without depth.

  14. Good message Mike! I hope to be a leader that makes and leaves a difference. Someone that can help build an organization that can thrive without me.

  15. Thank you. It has been my honor and privilege.

  16. Thanks Joe! And I have no worry about you becoming that kind of leader 🙂

  17. Thanks Ngina! Nothing really matters without depth

  18. pam

    The average person’s measure of success and what the Bible teaches as success are really worlds apart. For example, the Bible teaches that the least of these is the greatest. The world teaches that riches, relationships, and royalty are the trophies. For me, I just want my heavenly Father to say, “Well done”. pam from

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