Managers, beware: charisma can sometimes be toxic

Managers, beware: charisma can sometimes be toxic

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Is the charismatic a narcissist?

A charismatic "good" normally fights for the common good. He has empathy, heart, he likes to "grow" and emancipate those who follow him. But alas yes, sometimes his emotional path deviates and reveals this narcissistic dimension. So, everything that has just been written cancels itself out: the narcissist is only interested in himself, in his ascent, in his own height. The others are only an extension of himself. Dominating, he considers himself untouchable, shows aggressive audacity, thinks that everything is due to him. Admittedly, he knows how to seduce, to please, he has "packaging", but for his own profit.

What is the biggest trap of charisma?

The most dangerous aspect is the grip. Blinded by admiration, the followers no longer dispute, they don't even know how to do it anymore, too used to saying "yes". They get lost, disappear, fade, they are shadows. Without going back to Hitler (smile), imagine a charismatic leader in a box. The type of awesome boss who infantilizes, not elevates. Around, below, everywhere, it is the freely consented submission of which Etienne de La Boétie spoke in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Thus, the collaborators are in an obedient habit which deprives them of their critical spirit.

And what might that create between employees?

Rivalries, competition, a model of courtesy… It's up to whoever is closest to the sun. To appear and exist a little too, pull the "cover" to oneself. Terrible !

Managers, beware: charisma can sometimes turn out to be toxic

What governance rules can be provided to counter this risk?

As in the political life of our country, there must be bodies for regulation, call to order, control. A board of directors worthy of the name and leaders who are not all bewitched by the Big Boss, capable of standing up to him. But the big boss must also know how to slip away. Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, founder of Criteo, who was a discreet man but endowed with a remarkable sense of business, put into practice an interesting idea: during major strategic meetings, he disappeared for half an hour in order to allow his collaborators to speak in his absence. The decision was taken a posteriori, and together (1).

The former coach of the French handball team, Daniel Costantini, also took advantage of this tactic after a disastrous half-time. He had left the players to debate alone in the locker room, to berate each other, to find their own words, since his were not heard. The good charismatic knows how to disappear. To come back better.

And when it disappears for good, how do you deal with it?

You mean... if he dies? Or if he leaves office? In any case, his absence will inevitably leave a great void. And it is precisely there, during this moment of changeover, that we will judge whether or not the charismatic has been able to build and emancipate his teams. If it's yes, then the group, after a legitimate mourning, will be able to find another form of piloting. That said, one charismatic is rarely replaced by another. I believe more in a notion of cycle. Attrition often even appears during the lifetime of the charismatic... It's good to move on to a completely different form of power.

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The charismatic often designates a spiritual son...

Yes, a dolphin. There is then the barely conscious will to prolong oneself. Sometimes it works, as for example with the Ribouds, Danone bosses from father to son. The company's social fiber has thus been preserved. The transmission sometimes goes less well, I am thinking of the Lagardère or the Arnault. In these two families, we observe a crushing: the figure of the father, too strong, becomes a burden for the heirs.

In any case, a "natural" leader must plan his succession. And that necessarily goes through a transmission. One of the best examples is Pierre Bellon, charismatic ex-boss of Sodexo, who in 2016 "gave the keys" to his daughter Sophie, who certainly represents a different authority figure, but remarkable because really free from dad.

Do you have in mind, on the contrary, the example of a charismatic who got lost?

Bernard Tapie was a good example. Fighter, entrepreneur, leader, instinctive animal, able to perfectly handle passion and composure, he ticked a lot of boxes. But yes, he had gotten a bit lost. Polluted by the narcissism whose effects we denounced earlier. With problems of value, of ambiguous relationships to the truth. I don't know what history will remember. Because charisma, the real one, is also measured by the yardstick of time.

(1) Jean-Baptiste Rudelle is the author of a book whose title sums up well the challenge of the charismatic: On m'avais dit que c'tait impossible (Pocket Book).

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