Charisma and Presence in Leadership

We hear the terms ‘charismatic leaders’ and ‘leaders with presence’, but what do these two terms actually mean? Some people confuse them as the same, however, on closer inspection we find that they are very different. This short article looks at possible definitions of both terms, identifies the power that both have in influencing people and asks seven questions to assist you in building your own leadership presence.

Generally speaking a leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his or her shadow, or his or her light. As such, they must take special responsibility for what's going on inside themselves, inside their consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good (Conger, 1994).

According to Scouller (2011) ‘Charismatic Leadership’ refers to outer charm, power and persuasiveness – an outer image which can lack a deeper core. Charisma serves as a magnet and may be based on the assumption that charm and poise are all that is needed to attract potential followers. They rely on persuasion and are highly effective in both body and verbal language skills. Using a wide range of approaches to portray their image, charismatic leaders may practice to develop charismatic traits. In some instances charisma can be theatrical, like a carefully produced show which is played out to an audience in order to create the desired effect or outcome.

Under charismatic leadership, success may be viewed by followers in relation to their leader, thereby directly linking success squarely with the leader. This means that when the leader has gone there is nothing holding the group together, so they inevitably lose enthusiasm and fizzle out. Charismatic leaders are great for short term projects that require energy and creativity.

‘Leadership with Presence’ on the other hand is a psychospiritual state which reflects outwardly. It is an inner wholeness, a sense of identity and purpose. An understanding and congruence between feelings, life and oneself. Such leaders are free from limiting beliefs. This releases them from fear and expresses itself as inner peace and vitality.  Distinctive behaviours associated with ‘presence’ are attentiveness (being in the moment) and disarming honesty (Scouller, 2011).

Leaders with presence radiate sincerity and have what it takes to build foundations and make meaningful things happen. Whilst charisma gets you noticed, like the sheen on metal, presence is the real thing. These leaders earn respect and engender a powerful interplay with their followers through value behaviour alignment.  Success is viewed as an achievement by all and shared responsibility, a trait of highly effective teams, is evident.

Building leadership presence requires inner exploration of the following areas :

What is important to me in life, what are my values and my boundaries? What gives my life meaning and purpose? What makes me feel connected to myself and others? When do I feel at my most confident? How do I project myself when I am unsure of my values and boundaries? And how do I project myself when I AM sure and comfortable with them? How do I use my leadership powers?  Do I project on others my shadow or my light? And how do people respond to  me in both scenarios? How do I show attentiveness to others and speak with helpful truths?

Of course, there are exceptional leaders who display both charisma and presence, the two are not mutually exclusive.  However, in order to reach this exceptional level of leadership the foundation must be built on the solid ground of ‘Presence’ and not on the moving sands of ‘Charisma’.


Conger, J.A. (1994), Spirit at work: Discovering the spirituality in leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Scouller, J. (2011), The Three Levels of Leadership: How to develop your leadership presence, knowhow and skill, Kemble, Cirencester: Management Books 2000 Ltd

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