Leaders, individuals who seek to inspire others to follow them, need something that will make people want to do as they say. For visionary leaders, this is a vision of the way things could be if people accept their ideas and do as they say. Charismatic leaders, on the other hand, sell a vision of themselves that followers want to accept.
Visionary leaders are individuals who use an idea about the way things could be to motivate individuals to do as they say. This could be religious in nature, such as a vision of a possible afterlife or a narrative of how humans fit into the big picture of the universe. Alternatively, it could be a more worldly vision of how things here on Earth could function, such as government policies to mandate better working conditions or how a new product could change the world.
Charismatic leaders are individuals who gain a following because of their personality. They are charming individuals who know how to make individuals think that they like them, and have the charisma to make these individuals do as these leaders ask to retain this imagined affection. This charisma can be a natural trait of how the leader conducts himself, or a skill that the leader cultivates in order to carefully practice on the individuals he leads.
The prime difference between strictly visionary leaders and strictly charismatic leaders is the source of what makes people follow them -- their personality or the vision of the future that they are selling. The problem that visionary leaders face is that simply possessing a vision is not enough; the leader has to get people to accept the vision she is offering and nurture their desire to make it a reality. If she cannot sell the idea, then she had no basis for leadership. However, a charismatic leader's very strength comes from his ability to sell his product, himself, to the people he wishes to lead.
Consequently, then, some of the most effective leaders are those who combine the traits of both charismatic and visionary leadership. These are individuals who can sell a vision to people, and make themselves the face of that vision. Leaders, both admired and despised, have combined vision and charisma to galvanize people to follow them. One example would be the famous Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who used his charisma to sell his vision of computer products and the ways that people could integrate these products into their everyday lives.
Micah McDunnigan has been writing on politics and technology since 2007. He has written technology pieces and political op-eds for a variety of student organizations and blogs. McDunnigan earned a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California, Davis.