Charismatic Leadership: Fact and Fiction

The belief that charisma is a prerequisite ability for successful leadership insinuates two misconceptions: first, that it is limited to a small number of people with an extraordinary power to charm or influence; second, that the group leader is solely responsible for mobilizing the group around a common objective.

 

Challenges today are increasingly more complex for only one person to face on their own. Organizations today can benefit by developing the collective leadership potential of all their workers rather than relying solely on the figurehead or chief’s charisma.

 

This brings me to ask the question: what exactly is charismatic leadership?

 
 

Charisma: A compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.

 

According to writings on the subject (those of Max Weber, Holl, 1985, Sohm, 1982, and Ouedraogo, 1993), there are five fundamental characteristics that define charisma:
 

  • it is a relational phenomena;
  • it is where an individual has a strong influence on others;
  • it is by using this unique ability to convince or naturally charm;
  • charisma inspires devotion in others;
  • the charismatic leader and his/her followers share an emotional and enthusiastic experience.

 

Charisma: A quality depending on the devotion of others, also known as “supporters”.

 

According to the concept of charisma, the charismatic individual is gifted with a special power to influence and which is encouraged by the support of his/her immediate followers. This creates a community based on devotion and which gives way to a communal, emotionally-charged experience marked by the admiration and enthusiasm of the followers towards their leader. The charismatic leader inspires faith and power.

 
 

The devotion of others.

Devotion is what motivates individuals to form a community of followers that will obey to the call and goals of the charismatic leader. It depends on each individual in the group, on their emotional connection to their leader and on the faith they have in him/her.

 

In other words, the power of charisma depends on the followers’ of devotion towards their leader. The leader’s influence is not always universal, that is, not everybody feels the same enthusiasm and devotion towards the charismatic leader.

 

For example, Hitler was a charismatic leader for some but not for others. Obama is charismatic for some, but not for everyone. The case of Dominique Strauss Khann can also demonstrate this. Many followers described him as a charismatic leader and were ready to support his presidential ambitions.

 

However, Khann’s charismatic leadership decreased significantly after the accusations made against him on May 14th 2011. The devotion and faith of his followers were reduced to nearly nothing even though Khann’s “exceptional” ability remained the same.

 

Therefore, the ability of an individual to be charismatic depends on the devotion of others. Charismatic leadership is a volatile concept and has minimal chances of being permanently implemented as the leadership model for a group, organization or society.

 

Is the quality of charisma required to practice leadership? Is it necessary to be able to influence others?

 

Leadership is a process of influence between individuals mobilized towards a common objective. The practice of leadership belongs to all those who want and are able to influence the development of a situation or the resolution of a problem. The quality of charisma is therefore not required to exercise influence within a group, or organization.

 

However, there are specific characteristics that can encourage the desired influence on the group. These include:

 

  • The conviction that the objective is worth the time and efforts to reach it. This conviction can bring timid people to voice their ideas and perspectives.
  • Credibility. It comes from experience, expertise and reputation. Credibility must be developed continuously in one’s domain of activity. It can capture the interest of collaborators and reinforces the individual’s sense of worth.
  • Trust. Not only in yourself, but also in the decisions and actions of others. The opposite of trust is to doubt. In some cases, doubt can lead to self-improvement; it can also be harmful to the implementation of leadership when it is unjustified or becomes embedded in the individual or group’s attitude.
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication. These are necessary for the successful communication of convictions, credibility, self-confidence, enthusiasm and the belief in the opportunity to achieve the objective. All aspects of communication, whether verbal, non-verbal, written or oral are useful in the practice of leadership.
  • The ability to valorize competencies (interests, motivations, ambitions and abilities) of your co-workers, clients and suppliers. A true leader achieves the results expected of them and simultaneously encourages a work environment based on the collaboration and sharing of information and ideas of all workers. The alienation of the self to achieve profit goals is a characteristic of greed, not of leadership.

 
 

Conclusion.

One of the misconceptions of leadership is that only a few people have this unique ability of charisma and can influence and mobilize others.

 

Leadership needs to be shared and practiced everywhere and by everyone in the organization and society. CEOs and figureheads of authority today must be surrounded by mobilized partners that will help them solve problems and be able to put forward innovative solutions.

 
 

Edith Luc, Ph.D.

 

© 2011, Edith Luc. All Rights Reserved.


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