Why nerdiness is better than charisma


As senior IT executives, you're always hearing that you need to stop being so technical. Stop scaring everyone with all that negative talk about risk. Don't use all of that nerdy tech jargon, and quit referring to numbers all the time. To be a real leader, it is said, you have to pump up your people skills and master the power of persuasion. In other words, develop some charisma and then you'll win friends and influence people.

But please don't do this. Because charisma, while alluring, is not what businesses need out of their IT leaders. In fact, it's not what societies or nations need out of their leaders either, and I came across a good article last week that spells out why.

Charismatic leaders risk long-term damage to their institutions because charisma dilutes judgment, fosters collective narcissism, becomes addictive and disguises self-delusion and a host of other pathologies, warns Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London.

"Egocentricity, deceit, manipulativeness, and selfishness are key career advancers in both politics and management, and many leaders rise to the top motivated by their own problems with authority," Chamorro-Premuzic writes in a post at Harvard Business Review. "Although being in charge is a good antidote to having a boss, if you cannot be managed you can probably not manage others either."

Charisma appeals to us because it is entertaining, but in the long run it serves to distract both leaders and followers from real goals. The charm that charismatic people often rely on tends to trump rational judgment, and it encourages a distortion of reality. We can all think of a list of politicians and other national leaders whose charm swept them to the pinnacle of power, whence they fell after becoming deluded or distracted.

So if charisma is a damaging trait in a leader in the long run, how do we resist it and replace it with a better leadership model? Chamorro-Premuzic suggests turning to rationality to drive leadership decisions. We can use scientifically validated assessment tools. We can look beyond the candidates who are wizards in the art of self-promotion and search harder for those who didn't bully or charm their way up the ladder.

In other words, when it comes to leadership--its selection and its execution--science and technology, rather than charm or other emotionally manipulative traits, should be the driving forces. Hmmm, now what kind of executive is really good with science and technology?

Don't ever change. - Caron