Charisma: A professional tool worth its weight in gold

We’ve all seen movies that contain a pivotal moment when characters are united in a cause or moved to action, all as the result of an impassioned speech from a leading character.

The music builds as the words of this character flow forth, everyone’s eyes are fixed on them until finally there is a collective cheer as they come together to tackle a challenge, or their spirits are reignited for a seemingly lost cause, or they plunge headfirst into battle or some other dangerous endeavor, with no other incentive than these persuasive words.

But again, that’s the movies. Can the words of a charismatic leader really carry that much weight in real life, and serve as their own incentive (separate of any personal or financial gain)?

Joining me for this episode is Christian Zehnder with the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, whose study, “Just Words? Just Speeches?” On the Economic Value of Charismatic Leadership, has been selected for publication in the INFORMS journal Management Science. We’ll explore just how much weight charisma carries in the real world, especially in a business setting when sometimes words are the only incentives available.

The fascinating effect for us was that the charismatic speech had the same motivational effect, so the use of the charismatic leadership tactics had the same performance increasing effect as using a monetary piece rate.

Interviewed this episode:

Christian Zehnder

University of Lausanne in Switzerland

Christian Zehnder is Full Professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior at HEC Lausanne, University of Lausanne. He obtained a PhD in Economics from the University of Zurich in 2005.

His work seeks to elucidate the driving forces behind economic decisions and to understand how behavioral motives and social considerations affect market outcomes, organizations and institutions. Most of his work can be attributed to the field of “behavioral economics”, a relatively new line of research that combines insights from economics and psychology and examines systematic departures from the standard assumptions in economic models.

Christian Zehnder applies a variety of research tools, including laboratory experiments, field experiments and game theoretic models. His research therefore reflects an ongoing interplay between experimental examinations and advancements in behavioral theory.