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Encephale. 2013 Dec;39(6):445-51. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2012.10.006. Epub 2012 Dec 13.

[Charisma and leadership: new challenges for psychiatry].

[Article in French]

Author information

  • 1Université Montpellier 1, Montpellier 34000, France; Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Inserm), U1061, Montpellier 34093, France; Service universitaire de psychiatrie adulte, hôpital La Colombière, CHU de Montpellier, 39, avenue Charles-Flahault, 34295 Montpellier cedex 05, France. Electronic address: guillaume.fond@gmail.com.



New challenges arise in medicine, particularly in psychiatry. In the near future, psychiatrists' role may evolve into management of mental health care teams (GPs, nurses, psychologists…) thus creating the need for charisma and leadership. Charisma is defined as « a quality that allows it's possessor to exercise influence, authority over a group »; leadership as « the function, the position of chief, and by extension, a dominant position ».


To offer some reflections on charisma and leadership and the ways to develop them in three situations common in clinical practice: dual communication (between caregivers or with patients), oral communication (e.g., during a symposium) and managing a mental health care team.


Medline (1966-hits) and Web of Science (1975-hits) were explored according to the PRISMA criteria. The research paradigm was [(psychiatrist OR physician) AND mental health AND (leadership OR charisma)].


Two hundred and eighty articles were found, but only 34 corresponded to our subject and were included in the qualitative analysis. The leader must first ask himself/herself about his/her vision of the future, so as to share it with passion with his/her mental health team. Charisma and leadership are based on several values, among which we can mention: providing understandable, personalized care for the patient, in continuity and confidentiality; adapting care to the general population's request, maintaining one's own physical and mental health, submitting one's daily practice to peer review, engaging in continuous improvement of one's practices in response to new requirements, and recognizing that research and instruction are part of an M.D's professional obligations. The clinician will work on ways to develop his/her own charisma, through interactions with peers and team members, the care of his/her appearance (especially for first meetings) and workplace, and through positive reinforcement (some cognitive-behavioral techniques like assertiveness have been proposed to enhance the charisma, e.g., visualization and affirmation). Leadership does not depend on hierarchical position and administrative responsibilities: leaders should learn to manage and harmonize the different types of personalities within his/her team, paying special attention to passive-aggressive attitudes. We recall here some techniques to improve charisma during oral communication, such as making relationships with people by calling them by their names, making reference to things and people that the audience can identify with (like sport or cooking), using one's own style without trying to imitate someone else, focusing on one major idea, being brief and using anecdotes, using silences effectively and finally having good non-verbal communication. The conclusion should never be neglected, as an audience especially remembers the beginning and the end of a presentation. Although some features are common to all charismatic leaders (dominance, self-confidence, high energy level), a recent theory of leadership (called contingency theory) seeks to examine how different leadership styles can adapt to circumstances. This theory focuses more on the vision, passion, determination and courage of the leader and depends not only on their intrinsic qualities. No research has indeed shown individual characteristics that differentiate leaders from followers. However, doctors have not been prepared in their training to acquire leadership skills that they can use to adapt to the circumstances of their clinical practice. The most important qualities expected of a leader according to the current leadership theorists are: listening, communication, stress management, development of other's capacities, feedback, introspection and risk taking. Moreover, leadership involves positive reinforcement of the team while maintaining the feeling of individual autonomy, and being able to take an innovative decision alone with shared optimism. There is no need to have great management responsibilities in order to succeed in leadership. We reiterate the importance for a charismatic leader to smile, to be able to mock oneself and to regulate one's emotions.


Charisma seems to be an essential dimension for effective leadership and team management. Beyond psychiatry, we believe these reflections to be useful for all branches of medicine.

Copyright © 2012 L’Encéphale, Paris. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.


Charisma; Charisme; Communication; Gestion; Leadership; Management; Mental health; Santé mentale

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