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Like many of the great charismatic military leaders of the past such as Alexander the Great (Bristol 204) or General George S. Patton (Rosenback & Taylor 223; Rost 72), Gibson and Blackwell report that Kelleher is not afraid to get down in the trenches with his "troops" and endure the same types of challenges that his employees typically encounter on their jobs. Kelleher is also well-known for his insistence on allowing his employees to identify appropriate solutions to the problems with which they are most familiar, just as George Patton was fond of saying, "Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity" (Valle 1999:245). In addition, both Alexander the Great and General Patton were famous for leading their troops into battle and for being willing to suffer the same types of deprivations and make the same personal sacrifices as their followers, in some cases startling them with their casual disregard for their own personal safety; furthermore, both of these successful military leaders were also famous for their concern for welfare of their troops (Rosenback & Taylor 223).
Perloff (2003) emphasizes, though, that "A person who has charisma in one era might not wield the same influences on audiences in another historical period" (151). In this regard, while it is difficult to imagine Alexander the Great attempting to lead a complex organization such as a major airline today, Kelleher has done what he could in a contemporary setting to instill the same level of trust in his followers that his military counterparts had achieved in the past. For example, "Kelleher has also demonstrated his willingness to roll up his sleeves and load baggage or hand out peanuts on Southwest flights. Not only does this demonstrate his ability to do these jobs, but it assures the employees that Herb is 'one of the guys,' not the typical CEO who wouldn't be caught dead doing menial work" (Blackwell & Gibson 120). In this regard, Kelleher views the role of the general office as one of support to people in the field, not the other way around. According to Kelleher, "I think it is very important that you have a hands-on attitude, that you're willing to jump in there and help" (Blackwell & Gibson 120). These authors suggest that Kelleher represents the epitome of charismatic leadership today.
On a final note, although charisma may be a valuable trait that people are born with, leadership competencies can be identified and learned. According to Intagliata, Smallwood and Ulrich (2000):
An organization that determines the kind of leadership behaviors critical for its success can enhance success in creating leadership brand by taking steps to develop the capability of its leaders to demonstrate these competencies on the job. Unlike personality traits, competencies are characteristics of individuals that are (relatively more) malleable -- they can be developed and improved (emphasis added) (12).
The research showed that successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no set formula that will provide a reliable definition in every case. There were some commonalities identified, though, that almost every successful leader possessed to some degree such as the ability to instill trust in their followers based on an overriding concern for them, together with an indefinable but a "you'll know it when you see it" type of quality that has come to be known as charisma. While most of the leadership attributes can be learned through formal education and hands-on application in the workplace, charisma, it would seem, is a quality that truly successful leaders are born with rather than something that is capable of being learned. While all successful corporate leaders have not possessed this distinct quality in the past -- nor do they all possess it today -- those lucky few that do appear to have a real advantage in terms of their ability to motivate others to greater efforts over their counterparts that do not.
Blackwell, Charles W. And Jane Whitney Gibson. (1999). "Flying High with Herb Kelleher: A Profile in Charismatic Leadership." Journal of Leadership Studies 120.
Blackwell, Charles W., Jane Whitney Gibson and John C. Hannon. (1998). "Charismatic Leadership: The Hidden Controversy." Journal of Leadership Studies, 5(4):11.
Bristol, Michael D. (2001). "Charismatic Authority in Early Modern English Tragedy." Shakespeare Studies, 203.
Chaganti, Rajeswararao and Hugh Sherman. Corporate Governance and the Timeliness of Change: Reorientation in 100 American Firms. Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998.
Fairholm, Gilbert W. Leadership and the Culture of Trust. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994.
House, Robert. A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership. In J.G. Hunt and L.L. Larson (Eds.). Leadership: The Cutting Edge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977,
Intagliata, Jim, Norm Smallwood and Dave Ulrich. (2000). "Leveraging Leadership Competencies to Produce Leadership Brand: Creating Distinctiveness by Focusing on Strategy and Results." Human Resource Planning, 23(3):12.
Perloff, Richard M. The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Poch, Susan and Mimi Wolverton. (2000). "The Nexus between Academic Deans and Corporate CEOs: An Opportunity in the Making." Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(3): 122.
Riggio, Ronald E. The Charisma Quotient: What it Is, How to Get it, How to Use it. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987. In Perloff, 151.
Rosenbach, William E. And Robert…[continue]
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