Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

A Motivational Theory of Charismatic Leadership: Envisioning, Empathy, and Empowerment

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

A Motivational Theory of Charismatic Leadership: Envisioning, Empathy, and Empowerment

Article excerpt

The motivational effects of charismatic leadership are examined in greater detail. Charismatic leadership is assumed to have three core components." envisioning, empathy, and empowerment. A charismatic leader's envisioning behavior influences followers' need for achievement, and the leader's empathic behavior stimulates followers' need for affiliation. Followers' need for power is enhanced by a charismatic leader's empowerment practices. It is further suggested that the behaviors of a charismatic leader and the enhanced followers' needs promote clearer role perceptions, improved task performance, greater job satisfaction, stronger collective identity and group cohesiveness, more organizational citizenship behaviors, and stronger self-leadership among the followers. The contextual factors which may influence the motivational effects of charismatic leadership are also discussed.


Many scholars have argued that a charismatic leader inspires followers and generates some excitement among them (Bass, 1985; Burns, 1978; Conger & Kanungo, 1998; House, 1977) so that they perform beyond expectations. Despite the consensus on the effects of charismatic leadership, however, very few motivational theories on charismatic leadership have been proposed to explain explicitly how it affects followers' needs. This lack of research on the motivational effects of charismatic leadership could result from one or both of the following reasons.

First, previous research has noted the elusive nature and the mystical connotations of charismatic leadership (Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Yukl, 1999). Thus, the core features of charismatic leadership have been explained in many different ways by different scholars (Bass, 1985; Burke, 1986). For instance, Conger and Kanungo (1998) discussed charismatic leadership in light of a constellation of a leader's observable behaviors toward followers. In contrast, Meindl (1990) explained charismatic leadership in view of an inter-follower social contagion process, according to which followers' attributions of charisma are more strongly influenced by the interactions with other followers than by their direct experiences with the leader. This divergence in the conceptualization of charismatic leadership has hindered researchers in examining how a charismatic leader affects his/her followers' needs.

Second, many studies on charismatic leadership have taken a less interactional approach in the sense that they have focused primarily on the charismatic leader's personality traits (Behling & McFillen, 1996; Dubinsky, Yammarino, & Jolson, 1995; Nadler & Tushman, 1990) or profiles of leader motives (De Hoogh et al., 2005; House, 1977; House, Spangler, & Woycke, 1991). Because these studies investigated a charismatic leader in an isolated manner from followers, very little is known on how a charismatic leader's behaviors displayed in interactions with followers affect the profiles of their needs.

This study aims to develop a theoretical model of charismatic leadership which highlights its motivational effects on followers. More specifically, we propose that most charismatic leaders display several common behavioral characteristics in the interactions with their followers. Each of these behavioral characteristics arouses certain internal needs of the followers. The followers whose needs are stimulated in a non-exploitative way will then reveal various degrees of positive attitudes and behaviors toward their leaders, co-workers, and organizations. As such, a motivational theory of charismatic leadership presented here suggests that a charismatic leader generally generates positive individual and organizational outcomes by displaying behaviors that stimulate followers' needs.

In order to achieve the abovementioned objective, this study first sets out to clarify the core features of charismatic leadership by identifying its three core components: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment. …

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