Is A Charm Offensive A Viable Leadership Strategy?


What’s the best way to lead a team during difficult times? What qualities should a leader exhibit? A nation’s president (Hassan Rouhani), a county (China) and a business leader (Vernon W. Hill II of Metro Bank) have been using a charm offensive in an effort to win over a particular constituency.

Dating back to the mid 1950’s, the term charm offensive is commonly referred to as a concentrated attempt to gain favor or respectability by conspicuously cooperative or obliging behavior.

But could a charm offensive be an effective strategy for leaders in the workplace. Recently, I was presented with a situation in which an office, composed of twenty-five people, was under extreme pressure to deliver against a critical client initiative. The leader of the project had taken a first strike and confrontational approach to managing the team. This was exhibited in behavior such as publicly demeaning the efforts of co-workers, attacking their character, barking orders and shutting down any contrarian views.

Those attacking behaviors amped up the stress levels and were disrupting the office’s mojo. So much so, people were desperately searching for a coping mechanism – do they match the aggression (in order to curry some respect and personal dignity) or do they acquiesce in order to get through this tumultuous time. Neither of these stances will bring out the best in people or their work. Typically, it results in everyone exerting energy trying to figure out how to deal with the “bad boss” versus doing the work.

During times of stress and pressure it may be more productive for a leader to launch of charm offensive in order to unify and galvanize the collective team. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get everyone together and clearly state what needs to be accomplished and when.
  2. Be humble and engage in an open dialog with the team throughout the project.
  3. Be respectful to everyone on the team. This is not the time to be chiding each other.
  4. Practice patience. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Meet with people individually to see how they are doing.
  6. Make thoughtful and timely decisions.
  7. Run interference and clear away distractions that are inhibiting people from completing their assignments.
  8. Set milestones and take a break to celebrate progress.
  9. Surprise them with random acts of kindness to keep their spirits up.
  10. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

By nature stressful situations can bring out the worst in most people. Leaders who allow their “bad boss” to surface run the risk of alienating their team, forcing people to consider other employment and losing business. Launching a charm offensive may just be the best game plan for managing through strife. People will respond positively when there is a calm thoughtful voice leading the way.