I just finished reading a fascinating research paper co-authored by UCLA Associate Professor Maia Young, which begins to explore the reasons why some managers are considered charismatic and visionary, while others are not.
According to her research, the secret to being perceived as a visionary may be as simple as a magic trick: concealing the mechanics of your successes. As summarized in the Inc post detailing their results:
Researchers found that when people aren’t aware of the means by which a leader’s success is achieved, they tend to view that person as charismatic and visionary. It’s similar to the way a magician wows onlookers by obscuring the workings behind his tricks, says Maia Young, an associate professor of human resources and organizational behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The research in this paper is definitely a starting point not an end point; as the researchers are careful to note, there are many interesting ways to design additional studies that will provide more detailed information about how these mechanisms actually work. In their words:
One could investigate expectations when success is achieved through known means, but when the means are not specified. To what extent do the descriptions of inexplicable success hinge on the notion that the key to success is completely unknowable, as opposed to merely being unknown currently?
But the basic association remains clear: successful leaders are judged to be more charismatic, more desirable, and more visionary if nobody sees them working hard. The implications are clear: the more you can manage your public image to show effortless success, the more people will consider you a leader with a “special talent” and an “inexplicable ability to succeed.”
Post image from Daniel on Flickr.