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Charismatic vs. Transformational Leadership: What’s the Difference?

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When it comes to leadership styles, charismatic and transformational leadership are two that many leaders aspire to adopt, given both styles' ability to inspire, engage, and motivate employees to listen and act. It is only natural then that you might ask yourself, what is the difference when it comes to charismatic vs. transformational leadership? How do you decide which to use and when? To help answer that question, here is a definition of each and a look at the most notable similarities and differences.

Do you know what your leadership style is? If not, take this quiz to find out!


Charismatic Leadership Definition

The charismatic leadership style is defined by a leader's use of their communication skills and interpersonal relationships to influence or persuade others in order to fulfill their mandate. As the name suggests, leaders who use this style exhibit something that attracts, charms, and even inspires loyalty from others. Charismatic leaders are the type who can make their team feel like and believe that they can achieve a goal or milestone in the most trying or stressful of times. They do this by being empathetic, using humor, telling stories, working the room, and reading the audience.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Scientific and Engineering Research, charismatic leadership improved motivation and task commitment among employees, contributed to an optimistic attitude in employees, and increased productivity.

However, Harvard Business Review warns that at a certain point, the characteristics associated with the charismatic leadership style can negatively influence a leader's effectiveness. For example, “Self-confidence may turn into overconfidence and narcissism in highly charismatic leaders, while risk tolerance and persuasiveness may start to translate into manipulative behavior.”


Transformational Leadership Definition

Transformational leadership done right is all about making meaningful, positive changes within a team, department, or organization. Transformational leaders make people want to embrace change or improve, as well as make them believe that they can make those things a reality. As one Northeastern University Professor noted, “Truly transformational leaders can enter a struggling or stagnant organization[/department/team], analyze the circumstances, articulate the needed improvements quickly, and then be able to guide [them towards those changes in a way that] unites the group in a common effort.”

According to research, this is possible because transformational leaders do the following five things:

  1. Have a Clear Vision: Transformational leaders not only have a clear vision of where they want to go, but they are also able to articulate this to others.
  2. Use Communication to Inspire: Transformational leaders communicate in a positive, inspiring, and engaging way that makes others want to be involved and take action.
  3. Provide Intellectual Stimulation: Transformational leaders encourage others to see the problems holding them back, challenge their assumptions, or question why and how they do the work they do.
  4. Are Supportive: Transformational leaders are empathetic and respectful towards the feelings, contributions, and concerns of others. They give their thoughts the same level of consideration they wish for others to provide them.
  5. Deliver Recognition: Transformational leaders deliver praise and recognition to others that is thoughtful and personalized.


Individuals led by transformational leaders have been found to experience benefits such as improved performance, increased job satisfaction, greater meaning in their work, a more positive mindset, and higher levels of motivation. However, when used ineffectively, transformational leadership can cause problems like any leadership style. For example, Indeed points out that employees of transformational leaders may “begin to feel overworked, underappreciated, and burnt out” if they do not receive enough recognition, validation, and encouragement for their hard work and continuous improvement.


Charismatic vs. Transformational Leadership: Similarities and Differences

Unlike comparing leadership styles like laissez-faire vs. authoritarian, the difference between charismatic and transformational leadership is far less obvious. Here are some of the most notable similarities and differences between the two leadership styles:


  • Engaging and motivating
  • Ability to develop strong interpersonal relationships and connections that inspire trust and loyalty
  • Strong communication skills
  • Empathetic


  • Transformational leadership is focused on improvements and changes that forward the vision of the organization or department at large
  • Charismatic leadership may be focused on the organization or department, but they may also be focused on forwarding their own agenda or mandate

Charismatic vs Transformational Leadership



When it comes to charismatic vs. transformational leadership, the bottom line is that there is a time and place for each style, and neither is inherently better than the other. The key is to have self-awareness and sound judgment that allows you to analyze a situation and determine which style would be most effective. While it takes time to learn how to do this and do it with confidence, you can accelerate and support the learning process through leadership training and professional leadership coaching.

Do You Know Your Leadership Style? Take This Quiz and Find Out Now