CHARISMATIC LEADERS

So the charity Kids’ Company is in financial trouble, and its founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, is discovered to be an inadequate manager.

I’ve had the interesting experience of working with some charismatic leaders in my time, and from what I can make out, the pattern all seems rather familiar and very believable.  In my limited experience, what happens is that such a leader draws admiration and respect simply by being who they are.  They are focused on networking with powerful and influential people and they attract money without too much scrutiny.  People tend to think they are wonderful and doing great work and therefore are worth supporting financially.  Certainly CB has had the ear of the Prime Minister and of government ministers who were personally involved in making the decisions to support her charity with millions of pounds, along with other high-profile donors.  And there’s no doubt that such charities do some amazing work amongst the needy.

Behind the scenes, I  suspect it has been a rather different story.  Is there a pattern here of people who rely on their own charisma and appear to believe they are untouchable – but are impatient with the necessary nitty-gritty of everyday life?  In my own experience this is the case.  Such leaders are amazing in what they seem able to achieve, but trying to work with them is a lesson in frustration.  They are not much interested in process, or relational working, or support of staff.  One boss of mine refused to bring back receipts for the money he spent in his overseas work, until his financial directors (leaders in their field) discovered that the project was not only bankrupt, but the director continued to spend money with a credit card he had hidden from them.

Staff were treated like dirt.  Work that was done at his insistence and had taken weeks, could be thrown in the bin in a temper.  If somebody dared to criticise or raise concerns, they were either ignored or screamed at and sent out of the room.  But anything that might give the project a higher profile, especially any chance of working with the media, was prioritised.  The person I’m thinking of is a master of spin, too, until I reached the point of not being sure what, if anything, is actually true.

The founder of another charity we know, which works with the homeless, is amazing at making things happen.  Then she will sit with her trustees and they, who have been tearing their hair out, will get her to agree policies and rules to make the work safer and more effective.  She will then finish the meeting, and within a few minutes that agreement will be broken.  People with serious mental and social problems will be given access to money.  And it’s possible that drugs are going down on the premises.  But she loves them all …

Listening to the radio this morning, to the millionaire who withheld 3 million from the charity because he asked pertinent questions and the answers did not add up, rung more bells for me.  Lack of transparency, cavalier attitudes to financial responsibility, re-framing of situations that cause concern in order to blame somebody else, the self-exoneration of a charismatic director:  I recognised it all.

It is sad, and concerning, and now it means a lot of people are no longer being ‘helped’.  I do wonder anyway how much people were being helped to become self-sufficient, and how much of it was handouts which simply create dependency?  I guess we’ll never know the full story.

An article here:  http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9437932/the-trouble-with-kids-company/

‘So whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow a trumpet before you like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they will be praised by people. I tell all of you with certainty, they have their full reward!’  (Gospel of Matthew 6 vs 2)

image from twitter.com

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7 thoughts on “CHARISMATIC LEADERS

    1. Exactly … this is one of the things that worries me – with such leaders so much of it is about ‘them’ as personalities, and there is often little or no planning for the future, which is the case here.

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  1. I find it hard to comment on this post. It is a well thought out piece, with interesting M.O attributions based to your personal experiences. I don’t know the workings of kids company, reputable sources attest to good official financial audit outcomes. I assume standard financial audit practices were used. How you audit work with individuals and groups of people is an almost impossible task, most attempts at doing it, even using meta analysis, have been so contrived as to be difficult to propound for general use. Quantitave and qualitative research are not empathic to one another. Also, one size can never fit all and especially not where work with people is concerned, as you know.

    As for the traits of highly charismatic leaders, history is littered with them, Mao and Hitler, to name two recent characters. Perhaps the people you were aware of determinedly cheating could be added to the list.

    CB is in a different charismatic category, I believe, having highlighted the structural disinterest in feral children and an abusive seam of society, and a huge chunk of it encircling the seat of U.K power. Embarrassing.

    What you say about people who build up organisations, who cannot delegate, is problemstic. I am sure we will be fed a diet of inuendo and fuzzy facts about Kids Company. For me, the sadness is in the turmoil caused to the kids and the well-meaning volunteers.

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    1. I think most people would agree with that conclusion. My suspicion, which is backed up by certain comments from those involved, is that there appeared to be no forward-planning. This too resonates with my experience, resulting in the closing down of some very worthwhile international work.

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  2. Mmmmmm……Yes! I’ve also known…and still know….charismatic leaders; sadly, it would seem that their exceptional personalities mask underlying leadership flaws. Charisma seems not to guarantee efficiency……or efficacy. 😦

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