Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Who Are the Spellbinders? Identifying Personal Attributes of Charismatic Leaders

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Who Are the Spellbinders? Identifying Personal Attributes of Charismatic Leaders

Article excerpt

While much is known about what charismatic leaders do, where they emerge, and what their followers' reactions are, relatively little systematic empirical research has been conducted to assess who charismatic leaders are, and how we differentiate charismatic from noncharismatic leaders. To address this gap in the literature, multi-source field data were collected in five technology-driven organizations to examine the relationship between five personal attributes of leaders (i.e., self-monitoring, self-actualization, motive to attain social power, self-enhancement, and openness to change), ratings of charismatic leadership, and follower (i.e., extra effort, self-actualization, collectivistic work motivation, organizational citizenship behavior) and managerial performance outcomes. Two hundred and eighteen managers provided self-reports of their personal attributes and 945 subordinates provided ratings of follower outcomes and their manager's charismatic leadership. Superiors of the managers provided ratings of the manager's charismatic leadership and managerial performance two months after collecting the managers' and subordinates' ratings. Results indicated that managers rated by subordinates as high on charismatic leadership reported higher levels of self-monitoring, self-actualization, motive to attain social power and self-enhancement values than managers rated low on charismatic leadership. Managers rated by superiors as high on charismatic leadership were associated with followers who reported higher levels of extra effort and OCB than managers rated low on charismatic leadership.

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Over the past two decades, the charismatic leadership literature has been expanded substantially and a number of authors have examined charisma as a focal point of their leadership research. This is due in part to the turbulent business context that today's organizations must face, which calls for charismatic leaders who provide an appealing vision and meaning for their employees in the globally competitive business environment (Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Kets de Vries, 1998). Willner (1984) described charismatic leaders as "spellbinders," whose magnetic personalities and dynamic speaking skills motivate followers to achieve high levels of performance in such contexts. Conger (1989, p. 92) described charismatic leaders as "meaning makers." The business community also glorifies visionary leaders, such as Steve Jobs of Apple Computer and Jack Welch of General Electric, who define reality for followers, command an extraordinary level of respect from their followers, and effectively initiate change and innovation.

While several authors have pointed out the negative or dark side of charismatic leadership (e.g., Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Howell, 1988), numerous studies have reported positive effects that charismatic leaders have on followers' motivation, effectiveness, and satisfaction as well as organizational performance (Fiol, Harris, & House, 1999). These positive effects that charismatic leadership has on various criteria are based on the leader's ability to garner strong personal attraction from followers (Bass, 1990), articulate a compelling and evocative vision (Bligh, Khhles, & Meindl, 2004), transform the nature of work by making it appear more heroic, morally sound and meaningful (Conger & Kanungo, 1998), and enhance followers' self-conceptions (Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993).

Despite these encouraging results and well-developed theoretical frameworks that link charismatic leadership, positive outcomes and contexts that support their emergence, less is known about what constitutes the personality profile of charismatic leaders. Researchers have given little empirical attention to identify common personal characteristics among charismatic leaders. Although some authors have theoretically linked several personal attributes to charismatic leaders (e.g., Conger & Kanungo, 1998; House & Howell, 1992), their discussion is quite limited and does not provide empirical data to support their arguments. …

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