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Charismatic Leadership vs. Servant leadership

Updated September 23, 2022 by Carl Lindberg

This article outlines the similarities and differences between charismatic leadership and servant leadership. Suppose you are already acquainted with both styles. In that case, you can scroll past the introductory parts, which are intended as initial guidance and background for this comparison of servant and charismatic leadership. In the end, these two leadership styles are extraordinarily different, despite having some aspects in common.

Introduction to Servant Leadership

The following text is an excerpt from our article on Servant Leadership.

Servant leadership was first conceptualized by Robert K. Greenleaf (in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader”. He described two broad categories of leaders, namely Servant-first and Leader-first, defining if the focus is on the leader’s own success or if it is all about the people. Servant-first is what we know as Servant leadership.

Servant Leadership is a selfless leadership style that focuses on improving both people and organizations. Great servant leaders typically have good listening skills, lots of empathy, the ability to develop others, good persuasion skills, and big-picture thinking abilities. Servant leadership often leads to high employee engagement, highly motivated employees, and a strong sense of ethics. A servant leader needs to have very little or a complete lack of ego – this is an unusual trait among leaders. Servant leadership can sadly lead to too much focus on the individuals with less focus on the actual goals of the organization as a consequence. Furthermore, servant leadership is known to take a long time to establish, which doesn’t work in all organizations.

Servant leadership builds on ethics, emotional intelligence, participation in decision-making, and working towards a cause that means something more substantial than growing profits, such as community development or making a change in the world.

The advantages of Servant Leadership are:

  • Team morale is high
  • Collective decision-making increases employee engagement
  • The leader sets a strong example in ethical behavior

The disadvantages of Servant leadership are:

  • It takes a very long time to implement and build
  • It does not work in all settings and organizations
  • The team can lose sight of goals
  • Ego takes a complete back seat, which is difficult for many driven leaders to do

This information is taken from our detailed article on servant leadership. Just follow the link if you want a deeper understanding of this almost philanthropic leadership style.

Introduction to Charismatic Leadership

Max Weber created a definition of three types of leadership authority: charismatic, traditional, and bureaucratic leadership, as ways to exert power over others. The charismatic style depends on the persona and personality of the leader to a very great extent. This person would be perceived as extraordinarily gifted by the followers, according to Weber’s theory.

Charismatic leadership focuses on influencing and inspiring others. Charismatic leadership is tightly connected with the persona and charisma of the leader, it is more personality bound than any of the other leadership styles. The charismatic leader often connects to their personal view on morals and passion. The charismatic leader also plays on the emotions of their followers, who in turn recognize and appreciate the morals and passion of their leader. Where does the line between charisma and leadership skills go?

Charismatic leadership is when a leader uses charismatic qualities to inspire others. Charismatic leadership can be very inspirational and motivational, leading to unity and engagement. Charismatic leadership risks becoming an autocratic one-man. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is an example of a charismatic leader.

The advantages of charismatic leadership are:

  • Charismatic leadership inspires people to work together and unitedly for a common cause
  • Organizations led by a charismatic leader often show high levels of commitment and purpose
  • There is high clarity when it comes to roles and organizational objectives
  • Being part of something “bigger” than yourself can accelerate productivity and engagement among the members

The disadvantages of charismatic leadership are:

  • Charismatic leadership can become locked together with the leader’s persona. This makes succession planning difficult or even impossible.
  • Charismatic leaders can overestimate their own importance, even believing that they are above everything else. This could result in a violation of the law, and moral codes, and shutting out other opinions, ultimately leading to autocratic leadership.
  • If the vision or “cause” is a bad one, it can lead to the demise of the organization
  • A high level of obedience limits transparency, and inspiration can be risky – people might simply agree to whatever the charismatic leader says.

All the above information is taken from our main article on charismatic leadership, which I suggest you read for a more profound understanding of this rather risky leadership style.

Differences between servant leadership and charismatic leadership

There are many stark differences between these styles, and it is almost like comparing apples and oranges. The list of differences is endless in my mind, but let us narrow it down to the major ones.

The differences between servant leadership and charismatic leadership are:

  • Servant leadership requires a lack of ego on the leaders’ part, whereas charismatic leadership depends on that ego to a large degree
  • Servant leadership is entirely focused on others, whereas charismatic leadership is often selfish, where followers are used to meeting the ultimate goals set by the charismatic leader
  • Ethical leadership is at the core of servant leadership while often being a secondary priority in charismatic leadership
  • Charismatic leadership builds a lot on the will and persona of the leader, while servant leadership builds on community and participation in decision-making
  • Servant leadership gone too far might lead to laissez-faire leadership, while the complete opposite, autocratic leadership, will be the result of over-the-top charismatic leadership

Similarities between servant leadership and charismatic leadership

The differences above are profound and polar opposites in several cases. Despite this, there are also some similarities between these leadership styles.

The similarities between servant leadership and charismatic leadership are:

  • Both servant and charismatic leadership build on strong emotional intelligence
  • Team morale is often high in organizations led by servant or charismatic leadership
  • Both styles have a strong dependency on great communication
  • Servant and charismatic leadership instill loyalty
  • A strong vision and purpose are key in both styles

Servant leadership vs. charismatic leadership – summary, and conclusion

Comparing these two leadership styles is very difficult since they are so profoundly different. If you look hard enough, there are some similarities between pretty much all leadership styles. For instance, communication skills and emotional intelligence are well-known enablers for any leader to reach the desired outcome. Providing purpose is also known to unite people and have them work in the same direction. Comparing servant leadership to charismatic leadership is like comparing a priest with a rock star, to give you an extreme example. Sure, there will be commonalities, and they both benefit from being charismatic, but the similarities are completely overshadowed by their differences.

Suggested reading

Some related articles:

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