Integrity Over Charisma

Good leadership requires integrity more than charisma. Integrity creates a climate of safety in which people can thrive, while charisma often leads to complacency and arrogance and keeps people small and dependent.

Peter Drucker was born on November 19, 1909, and grew up in Vienna as the son of an upper middle-class Jewish family. In the 1920s he studied first in Hamburg and later in Frankfurt. After the Nazi regime put one of his works on the list of books that were publicly burned on May 10, 1933, Drucker first emigrated to London and then moved to the USA in 1937.

In light of his personal history, it is hardly surprising that Peter Drucker treats the concept of leadership in his work only very cautiously. And in the few places where he nevertheless writes about it, the reference to Hitler, Stalin and Mao is almost never missing as a deterrent example of how dangerous charisma can become without character and integrity.

The final proof of the sincerity and seriousness of an organization’s management is uncompromising emphasis on character. (…) For it is through character that leadership is exercised; it is character that sets the example and is imitated.

Peter F. Drucker. Management – Rev. Ed., p. 286

For Peter Drucker, charisma is therefore not the key quality of leadership, but on the contrary often the root of all evil, because charisma frequently leads to complacency and arrogance: Egomaniacs can be very charismatic. Peter F. Drucker accordingly attests truly effective leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall or Harry Truman the charisma of a “dead mackerel” (Peter F. Drucker. Management – Rev. Ed., p. 289)

So what really matters is not charisma, but integrity. Personal integrity is rooted in philosophical humanism and means the greatest possible agreement of a consistent framework of values, convictions and ideals with one’s own life practice in words and deeds. This means in particular that this framework must be universally applicable without randomly excluding individuals (oneself) or groups of individuals (the others) from its application. In this respect, integrity thus requires the fulfillment of the categorical imperative:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

Immanuel Kant

Accordingly, those who lead with integrity are not afraid of strong employees, but rather rely much more on the individual strengths of their employees, promote them and make them great and successful in the sense of the common mission. On the other hand, those who keep others small out of fear or, like many autocrats, carry out downright purges, are only apparently strong and actually act from a position of weakness with little integrity. The result is mediocrity on the one hand and little value-adding political fights on the other.

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.

Peter F. Drucker. Management – Rev. Ed., p. 288
The fifth thesis of the Manifesto for Human Leadership is also a call for integrity
The fifth thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership

Integrity in this sense is precisely the value behind this fifth thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Growing leaders over leading followers. Leadership today is only legitimate if it is aimed at the self-leadership of the people entrusted to it. It is not about being superior or inferior, it is about working together as adults at the same level. Leadership is a service, not a privilege. And the service is to offer people the opportunity for development.

To this end, leadership through integrity creates a climate of psychological safety and trust in which people can rise above themselves. A difference that makes a difference, which is what Simon Sinek very impressively demonstrates in this TED talk:

Get the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership as Paperback

Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Cover of English paperback The Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership is also available in a detailed version as a paperback at Amazon (also as an e-book). Since I have published the book independently, I am always delighted to receive word of mouth recommendations to colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

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