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From Charisma to Compassion - do you have what it takes to lead in a remote world?

For most people, leadership is inextricably linked to having personal charisma. Charisma allows leaders to create emotional bonds with their teams and inspire passion and engagement in their work. Yet in the era of remote working, more and more managers are finding that charisma translates poorly into digital and online spaces, and old methods of motivation based on personal charm no longer function. So what can we do to replace this old model of leadership in our new increasingly virtual office environment?

Charisma and leadership

Charisma is usually described as an ability to attract, influence, and inspire people. A key component to this ability is based on body language and non-verbal communication. A host of behaviors, from pose mirroring to maintaining eye contact, allows us to extend the emotional impact of our verbal communications and make ourselves appear more confident or convincing to others. These behaviors allow a charismatic individual to be more sympathetic and emotionally resonant with their audience. This effect is especially powerful in face-to-face interactions where people interact directly with each other in close proximity. As the influential study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian showed, 93% of communication happens non-verbally, and charismatic leaders excel in using this nonverbal component to communicate trust and confidence.

Charisma’s shortfalls in the era of remote work

In the age of COVID-19, however, as most if not all of our work is done entirely remotely and non-verbal communication becomes more difficult, leadership by charisma becomes less possible. Since a great deal of charisma’s power is derived from using body language and non-verbal communication well, replacing face-to-face interaction with video-conferencing severely limits the charismatic leader’s toolkit. In video-conferencing much of our body language becomes lost or garbled, and even the basic ability to maintain eye contact during a conversation is lost or severely compromised. Those leaders who used to rely on charisma to motivate their team now find themselves in unfamiliar waters.

So what can managers and leaders do now that charisma is no longer a reliable tool to motivate and help lead your team? One reason why charisma is so powerful is that it’s a shortcut to establishing an emotional connection between leaders and their team. Now that the shortcut is closed to us, leaders need to get to that same place of emotional connection via a longer but much more authentic route by practicing compassionate leadership.

Compassion, not charisma

Compassion builds the truest and strongest links between people, links that can’t be degraded by the difficulties of digital communication. Compassionate leaders lead by truly embodying the goals, values, and aspirations of their team members, and earns deep and lasting trust from the people they serve. The relationship also becomes more non-hierarchical; instead of being above their team members and receiving the authority that flows upwards to charismatic leaders, compassionate leaders seek to embed themselves in the network of their colleagues, and see team members as true peers.

So how do we achieve this type of leadership? Our faculty here at Stellar Capacity suggests three important things to keep in mind when practicing compassionate leadership:

  • Trust your peers: trust is the truest currency of leadership. Good leaders not only earn the trust of their team, but invest that trust back to form a true two-way relationship. By being transparent with their actions and thoughts, especially during difficult times, compassionate leaders display that they trust their team members. When a leader shares his or her challenges, their teams can be honest about their own, inspiring mutual trust and confidence and enabling more direct communication.

  • Learn to give up space: instead of using charisma to take up space and attention, compassionate leaders know the importance of keeping back to truly let their team be seen. This means that they listen more and speak less, and both take responsibility and share credit generously. Compassionate leaders embed themselves among their peers and make sure everyone is in the spotlight equally. This ensures that everyone has a shared sense of mutual engagement; in a team where everyone matters, everything you do for the team also matters!

  • Embody authenticity and cultivate the whole self: with much of work now taking place at home, there is not much physical space that separates it from the rest of one’s life. Compassionate leaders realize this and encourage their team to embrace this wholeness so that work is properly integrated into one’s life. By affirming the importance of their team members’ lives outside of work, it allows individuals to contribute all of their talents to spur unexpected insights and innovations in your organization.

By keeping these three points in mind, a leader can go a long way to re-orienting their leadership to better work in the age of the virtual office, but this is only a start. There are several different practices and methodologies a leader can embrace to develop more effective remote leadership. If you would like to know more, please join Stellar Capacity in our upcoming four-week course Digital Leadership.

This program is designed to help you and your fellow leaders develop your digital leadership and maximize the full potential of remote and online work for your team. If you would like to find out more, please download the program brochure below. We will also make sure you receive invitations to our public webinars and stay in the loop to learn about programs that develop leaders who drive digital change.



Contact us if you would like to know more about our programs and one of our program advisors will get in touch!

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