Charismatic Leadership

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The Tripartite Classification of Authority. Explanation of Charismatic Leadership of Weber and others. ('22)


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Charismatic Leader Mahatma GandhiWhat is Charismatic Leadership? Description

Charismatic Leadership is defined by Max Weber as "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him". He defines Charisma as "a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader (...). How the quality in question would be ultimately judged from an ethical, aesthetic, or other such point of view is naturally indifferent for the purpose of definition".

Charismatic people have a remarkable ability to distill complex ideas into simple messages ("I have a dream"); they communicate by using symbols, analogies, metaphors and stories. Furthermore they relish risk and feel empty without it, they are great optimists, they are rebels who fight convention, and they may seem idiosyncratic.

Charismatic leaders are pictured as organizational heroes or magic leaders who have the social power basis to orchestrate turnarounds, launch new enterprises, inspire organizational renewal, and obtain extraordinary performance from organizational members. These leaders inspire trust, faith and belief in themselves. Of course none of this is a guarantee that the mission will be correct, ethical, or successful.

Origin of the Charismatic Leadership model. History

German Sociologist Max Weber distinguished back in the 1920's three ideal types of leadership, domination and authority:

  1. Charismatic domination (familial and religious),
  2. Feudal / Traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism), and
  3. Bureaucratic / Legal domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy).

Robert House (1977) used four phrases to define charismatic leadership:

  1. Dominant.
  2. Strong desire to influence others.
  3. Self-confident.
  4. Strong sense of one’s own moral values.

Conger & Kanungo (1998) describe five behavioral attributes of Charismatic Leaders:

  1. Vision and articulation.
  2. Sensitivity to the environment.
  3. Sensitivity to member needs.
  4. Personal risk taking.
  5. Performing unconventional behavior.

Most recently charisma is being characterized as theatrical (Gardner & Alvolio, 1998): charismatic leadership is an impression management process enacted theatrically in acts of framing, scripting, staging, and performing. Compare also: EPIC ADVISERS.

Usage of the Charismatic Leadership style. Applications

  • In difficult times or circumstances, such as an urgent organizational turnaround. Compare: Crisis Management.
  • Note that according to Weber, a charismatic leader does not have to be a positive force. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler could be reasonably considered charismatic leaders. Compare: Servant-Leadership
  • See Core Groups theory for some of the mechanisms behind charismatic leadership.

Steps in Charismatic Leadership approach. Process

Jay Conger (1989) proposed the following four-stage model of charismatic leadership:

  1. Continual assessment of the environment and formulating a vision.
  2. Communication of vision, using motivational and persuasive arguments.
  3. Building trust and commitment. subordinates must desire and support the goals of the leader and this is likely to be accomplished by more than coercion; rather the leader builds trust in the leader and the viability of the goals; this is likely to be done through personal risk taking, unconventional expertise, and self-sacrifice.
  4. Achieving the vision. Using Role modeling, empowerment, and unconventional tactics.

Strengths of Charismatic Leadership style. Benefits

  • Results in relatively strong, unchallenged levels of obedience.
  • Useful in difficult times or circumstances, such as an urgent organizational turnaround. Compare: Crisis Management.
  • Effective. If the charismatic leader's vision is right, this leadership style can be extremely effective.
  • Rhetorical ability. Compare: Framing.
  • Energetic, inner clarity, visionary, unconventional, and exemplary.

Limitations of Charismatic Leadership style. Disadvantages

  • Results in relatively strong, unchallenged levels of obedience. Tendency of gathering weak "yes-men" around him. Poor delegation.
  • People possessing these skills and attributes are relatively rare.
  • Tendency to narcissism. Losing reality. Insensitive to others. Compare: Seven Signs Of Ethical Collapse
  • Lack of accountability. Freedom from inner (moral) conflicts. The values of charismatic leaders are essential. If such leaders are well-intentioned towards others, they can elevate and transform an entire company. But if they are selfish or poor, they can create cults and effectively rape the minds of the followers.
  • Unpredictable. Potentially dangerous.

Charismatic Leadership Forum (18 topics) Help
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