strong leaders has been an important aspect of organizational development since the beginning of time. Compelling leaders possess a number of personality traits and skills that require constant development, and it has been demonstrated that leaders who possess charismatic qualities are likely to gain respect and admiration over those that lack this characteristic. Within the structure of organizations, one of the primary requirements for fostering charisma is the development of a vision, defined as a mental image of an idealized future for an organization (Awamleh and Gardner 346). Once a vision has been established in a leader's mind, it can only be successful once it is expressed to all levels of the organization. Outstanding leaders are able to establish their goals and objectives for the organization in a charismatic fashion. The following discussion will provide an analysis of charisma and its role in leadership development and will provide some influential examples that demonstrate the importance of charisma in leadership activities.
What is Charisma?
The term charisma was first acknowledged in the New Testament of the Christian Bible in reference to gifts of the Holy Spirit (Paul, Costley, Howell, and Dorfman 193). The following definition of charisma is religious in nature: "The term 'charisma' will be applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as not to be 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;" (Paul et. al 193). However, as time passed, the charisma took on yet another meaning as a sociological concept.
Max Weber introduced the concept of charisma as a process by which radical change is implemented and legitimized in societies and organizations (Jacobson and House 2). Weber's theory includes the following ideas as demonstrated by Riesebrodt (10-11): "When personal charisma predominates, the fact that charisma can be gained and lost proves that from the followers' point-of-view it is kind of a magical power which is essentially distinct from the person...charisma is the specific quality of the relationship between leader and followers that defines and constitutes charisma...in modern politics, charisma becomes democratized and is transformed into ascribed charisma." This last theory indicates that charisma is primarily developed and conveyed in persons who hold positions as democratic leaders. Furthermore, charisma can be defined in terms of crisis or other situations in which the need for a convincing leader is absolutely essential to maintain stability.
Weber's theory is also analyzed in an article entitled "Charismatic Organizations" from the University of Arizona. In this article, it is suggested that charismatic leaders arise in positions of authority under nontraditional circumstances: "Conversely, they are not truly traditional either. As revolutionary forces, they actually disrupt traditions. Charismatic leaders rise and change many traditional behaviors. A fascinating characteristic of charismatic authorities is that the charismatic personality usually is a member of the traditional organization who through normal means could probably not attain a leadership position at all. So, in a way, the possibility of charismatic leadership allows nobodies to rise up and lead...most charismatic communities are based in an effectual or emotional action orientation. As effectual social action is tenuous and easily becomes traditional or rational, so do these organizations. If there is a weakening of the evidence of charisma, the followers will rescind their "offer" of legitimacy and the organization would die." (University of Arizona 1). In modern times, a leader's charismatic nature often attracts naive individuals to engage in organizations that may not act in the best interests of its followers and may in fact be detrimental to the participants. This behavior is particularly evident in cults and other groups where a leader often engages followers through spellbinding thoughts and actions. In many of these examples, followers are often searching for meaning and question why things occur as they do and find their answers in a common union with a person with a charismatic personality with dangerous qualities as well. Some examples include modern religious cult leaders, including David Koresh and Jeffrey Lundgren. However, this explanation may not provide a clear answer regarding the legitimacy of behaviors of people who follow Elvis Presley many years after his death or the Grateful Dead. These instances may not be so easily explained by the traditional rationalizations provided by researchers. Perhaps additional questions must be raised in regard to these groups.
Charisma can be transferred to another individual within an organization, but often not without difficulties, particularly if the person next in line does not truly possess any charismatic qualities. A strong example is Prince Charles and his struggles to acquire respect from the British: "Charisma can be passed through the genes, like curly hair or diabetes. This approach grants a kind of hereditary charisma to a child of the original leader. This is probably one of the most dangerous (for the organization) methods to use because there is a problem of numerous children or even worse, an elder son like Prince Charles. Is there little wonder that he, in realizing his threatened rise to the throne, seemed to take some charisma pills soon after the death of Princess Diana? He knows that as the weakening traditional authority and the non-existent legal authority of the monarchy runs its course, he will have to depend on the people's love and devotion toward him to gain a meaningful position as future king. This is a strong example of the ability of charisma to make or break a leader in his quest for excellence.
Since charisma is primarily characterized in political leadership, it was determined that only seven historical political leaders were perceived as charismatic as defined in the divine sense (Edwards 29): Hitler, Gandhi, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sukarno, Mussolini, Castro, and Khomeini. These personalities are considered charismatic because they are characterized in the following manner: "A leader must be perceived by his or her followers as somehow superhuman and followers must blindly believe the leader's statements, unconditionally comply with the leader's directives for action, and give the leader unqualified emotional commitment" (Edwards 29). In addition, "Some parties need a charismatic personality to attract would-be voters, especially those at the grassroots level, at a general election" (Jakarta News 1). Further research into the concept determined that those who engage in their efforts with charisma possess the following attributes (Paul et. al 195):
An idealized vision
Engage in personal risks
Engage in self-sacrifice
Use unconventional strategies
Assess the environment in a realistic fashion
Articulate motivation to lead
Engage in exemplary behavior
Act as an agent of radical change
Bast (2) indicates the following: "The term charisma is value-neutral: it does not distinguish between good or moral and evil or immoral characteristic leadership. Charisma can lead to blind fanaticism in the service of megalomaniacs and dangerous values, or to heroic self-sacrifice in the service of a beneficial cause. Ethical charismatics develop creative, critical thinking in their followers, provide opportunities for them to develop, welcome positive and negative feedback, recognize the contributions of others, share information with followers, and have moral standards that emphasize collective interests of the group, organization, or society." Charismatic leadership can be considered ethical or unethical in nature. According to the teachings of Dr. Mary Bast (2), the following differences characterize ethical vs. unethical charismatic leaders:
Unethical charismatic leader: Uses power for personal gain or impact, promotes own personal vision, criticizes opposing views, demands acceptance of own decisions without question, one-way communication is exercised, insensitive to followers' needs, relies on convenient external moral standards to satisfy self-interests
Ethical charismatic leader: Uses power to service others, supports vision with followers' needs and aspirations, learns from criticism, stimulates followers to think independently, two-way communication, coaches, develops, and supports followers, shares recognition with others, and relies on internal moral standards to satisfy organizational and societal interests
The significance of charismatic leadership is often demonstrated in followers, as they exhibit the influences that leaders convey in their thoughts and actions. Leaders that encourage independent thinking will create followers that possess the ability to provide their own leadership, and they will experience feelings of confidence, power, and capability. In addition, such followers will establish their own set of ethical principles to guide their behaviors (Bast 3). Furthermore, charismatic leadership in business organizations is characterized by the following features (Bast 2):
Powerfully communicating a compelling vision of the future
Passionately believing in the vision
Promoting beliefs with boundless energy
Advocating creative ideas
Inspiring extraordinary performance in followers by expressing confidence in their abilities and building followers' trust and faith in the leader
In modern times, leaders who possess charismatic qualities are often blessed with many rewards. The following indicators of charisma demonstrate its role in gaining achievements for many leaders (Sellers and Puri 69-70):
Charismatic people possess the ability to condense complex ideas and theories into simple messages