Charisma, What Charisma?

[Our guest blogger is Madeleine McGrath, Managing Director, International, of the Tom Peters Company.]

Last weekend's German elections, won by a coalition of the Christian Democrats and the Free Democratic Party, have caused a lot of press comment about the leadership qualities of the successful candidate for the role of Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

There have been comments on her rather dour and austere demeanor. She is said to lack charisma, with her communication style described at best as calm and measured. She is not perceived as a visionary, and certainly does not have the public profile of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. She had an uneasy relationship with the Social Democrats, her previous coalition partners. Some commentators say that the caution she learned growing up in Eastern Europe has led to a reluctance to take risks as a leader. All in all, she's scoring pretty low on leadership characteristics by my reckoning.

And yet her leadership of the German people through this troubled economic period has built for her an enviable reputation as a statesperson who is reliable and trustworthy. So much so that in a recent BBC Radio 4 profile on her successful election campaign, it was reported that many Germans affectionately refer to her as Mutti (mother).

So I wonder if there are any more general lessons for us here about what followers are looking for in their leaders in these difficult times. Is there a female leader dimension to this? Is the era of the superstar leader, both in business and in politics, firmly behind us now? Are followers looking for substance over style? If so, what does this mean for President Obama, Prime Minister Brown, and anyone leading a business today?