Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership is the ability to lead others based on personal charisma and associated skills that generate devotion among followers. Popular political, social or religious movements often owe their existence to charismatic leaders, who also take up leadership positions in business, media and entertainment and as general opinion-makers. The term charismatic and charisma derives from the ancient Greek word "charis" denoting "grace," implying that charismatic leaders and charismatic people in general are perceived as graceful and attractive model human beings.

Charismatic leaders are often linked to the concept of "transformational leaders," responsible for radical organizational and social changes, defined by Martin Chemers in his book An Integrative Theory of Leadership as "larger-than-life, earth-shaking leaders who do more than transact the mundane concerns of everyday activity... [and] who foment revolutions in politics or commerce and divert the streams of history." The correlation between charismatic and transformational leaders is not necessarily causation; not all transformational leaders are perceived as charismatic, but charisma does play an important part in leadership effectiveness.

Chemers defines the concept of charisma in leadership with the symbolic metaphor of the "chosen one," - a gifted individual of universally accepted "sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character," to near supernatural degree. In fact, Chemers maintains that such leaders also have the duty to perform against high standards; their "gift of grace," being conditional on them maintaining a high degree of moral behavior. In return for this, followers of charismatic leaders experience a "call to duty," and "obligation," to their charismatic leader, leading to sometimes irrational behaviors on their behalf motivated by a "moral imperative." To Chemers, this kind of relationship holds true for CEOs and employees of modern business organizations no different than in revolutionary social movements or archaic religious cults.

Chemers also makes note of RJ House's Theory of charismatic leadership presented in 1976. That theory develops 12 characteristics of charismatic leadership, grouped into categories of behavioral traits and situational factors. The personal behavior traits that define charismatic leaders, according to House's theory, includes an excessive degree of self-confidence, ability to exert power over others, an inward need to influence others and a very strong conviction in the moral righteousness of one's actions. As Chemers summarizes it, the outcome of this combination is that such individuals experience a heartfelt moral certainty and "a willingness to impose that certainty on others." House's theory also proposes several behaviors that ensure that followers develop and maintain their devotion to a charismatic leader. The first is the conscious use of role modeling by the charismatic leader, by overall or at least outward observance of ascribed values and beliefs. Chemers gives examples with Gandhi's lifestyle as an Indian peasant making his own clothes, or Martin Luther King's unprotected public appearances as instances of "power role modelling." He also notes such models should appear attractive and nurturing to the intended audience. Also important are behaviors that set apart the leader as an extraordinarily or divinely gifted individual. As Chemers notes in today's political advertising environment demonstrating "competence," as a central tenet is particularly important. This is in addition to good "goal articulation" implying clear mission and vision and good communication skills. The leader's inherent overconfidence serves to amplify this message of a competently articulated goal. The well defined goal and the leader's confidence in success is best expressed through what Chemers terms "motive arousal behaviors," such as the distinctive pep talk speeches of General Patton during World War II.

House's theory identifies two more "situational," factors that influence a charismatic leader's success - the "stress," environment and the "transcendent vision," inherent in the goal to be achieved. During times of war or other great calamities when the public is under a heavy amount of stress, charismatic leaders are more likely to emerge on the public stage, gain traction and attract a devoted following. Also, political or business leaders pursuing mundane goals that offer pragmatic rewards generate less excitement and devotion than those tackling untried or high-stakes undertakings shrouded in ideological overtones.

In his book Transformational Leadership: Industrial, Military, and Educational Impact late leadership scholar Bernard Bass summarizes the empowerment charismatic leaders confer to their followers: "Charismatic and inspirational leaders instill faith in a better future for the followers in terms of their self-expression, self-evaluation and self-consistency. Followers attribute their own extra effort to internal self-related causes rather than to extrinsic rewards, further adding to the followers' commitment to the "cause," and to vague and distant goals. Faith in a better future is an intrinsically satisfying condition in itself.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Strategic Leadership: Theory and Research on Executives, Top Management Teams, and Boards
Sydney Finkelstein; Donald C. Hambrick; Albert A. Cannella Jr.
Oxford University Press, 2009
Librarian’s tip: "Personality and Charisma" begins on p. 71
Organizational Behavior: Foundations, Theories, and Analyses
John B. Miner.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 25 "Charismatic and Transformational Theories"
Charismatic Leadership: The Hidden Controversy
Gibson, Jane Whitney; Hannon, John C.; Blackwell, Charles W.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4, Fall 1998
Who Are the Spellbinders? Identifying Personal Attributes of Charismatic Leaders
Jung, Dongil; Sosik, John J.
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Vol. 12, No. 4, Summer 2006
A Meta-Analysis to Review Organizational Outcomes Related to Charismatic Leadership
DeGroot, Timothy; Kiker, D Scott; Cross, Thomas C.
Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 17, No. 4, December 2000
Charisma, History, and Social Structure
Ronald M. Glassman; William H. Swatos Jr.
Greenwood Press, 1986
Gender Differences in Social and Emotional Skills and Charismatic Leadership
Groves, Kevin S.
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3, Spring 2005
The Noble Savages: The Primitive Origins of Charisma and Its Contemporary Survival
Bryan R. Wilson.
University of California Press, 1975
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1"Charismatic Leadership: The Rehabilitation of a Concept" and Chap. 2 "Charismatic Leaders in Less-Developed Societies"
Military Leadership: In Pursuit of Excellence
Robert L. Taylor; William E. Rosenbach.
Westview Press, 2000 (4th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "A Charismatic Dimension of Military Leadership?"
The Cult Experience
Andrew J. Pavlos.
Greenwood Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Cult Leaders, Charisma, and True Believers"
Max Weber's Political Sociology: A Pessimistic Vision of a Rationalized World
Ronald M. Glassman; Vatro Murvar.
Greenwood Press, 1984
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Revolution and Charisma in a Rationalized World: Weber Revisited and Extended" and Chap. 12 "Manufactured Charisma and Legitimacy"
Prophetic Religions and Politics: Religion and the Political Order
Jeffrey K. Hadden; Anson Shupe.
Paragon House, vol.1, 1984
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Prophecy, Charisma, and Politics: Reinterpreting the Weberian Thesis"
A Motivational Theory of Charismatic Leadership: Envisioning, Empathy, and Empowerment
Choi, Jaepil.
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall 2006
The Role of Personal Meaning in Charismatic Leadership
Sosik, John J.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2000
Meaning from Within: Possible Selves and Personal Meaning of Charismatic and Non-Charismatic Leaders
Sosik, John J.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2000
Understanding the Charismatic Leader-Follower Relationship: Promises and Perils
Dumas, Colette; Sankowsky, Dan.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4, Fall 1998
Charismatic Leadership Development: Role of Parental Attachment Style and Parental Psychological Control
Towler, Annette.
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4, Summer 2005
Heroes or Villains? Corruption and the Charismatic Leader
DeCelles, Katherine A.; Pfarrer, Michael D.
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, Summer 2004
Personality and Charisma in the U.S. Presidency: A Psychological Theory of Leader Effectiveness
House, Robert J.; Spangler, William D.; Woycke, James.
Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3, September 1991
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