Charismatic leadership


The discussion of this article is whether charismatic leaders are born with their qualities or can people learn to be charismatic leaders if charisma is a desirable factor for leadership.

Although a small minority still think charisma cannot be learned, most experts believe that individuals can be trained to exhibit charismatic behaviors and can thus enjoy the benefits that accrue to being labeled “a charismatic leader.� For instance, one expert reiterates that a person can learn to become charismatic by following a three-step process.

First, an individual needs to develop the aura of charisma by maintaining an optimistic view, using passion as a catalyst for generating enthusiasm; and communicating with the whole body, not just with words. Second, an individual draws others in by creating a bond that inspires others to follow. And third, the individual brings out the potential in followers by tapping into their emotions. The approach seems to work, as evidenced by researchers who’ve succeeded in actually scripting undergraduate business students to “play� charismatic. The students were taught to articulate an overarching goal, communicate high performance expectations, exhibit confidence in the ability of followers to meet these expectations, and empathize with the needs of their followers; they learned to project a powerful, confident, and dynamic presence; and they practiced using a captivating and engaging voice tone.

To further capture the dynamics and energy of charisma, the leaders were trained to evoke charismatic nonverbal characteristics: They alternated between pacing and sitting on the edges of their desks, leaned toward the subjects , maintained direct eye contact, and had relaxed postures and animated facial expressions. These researchers found that these students could learn how to project charisma. Moreover, followers of these leaders had higher task performance, task adjustment and adjustment to the leader and to the group than did followers who worked under groups led by non charismatic leaders.

The Case For and Against Charismatic Leadership:

On a positive note, there is an increasing body of research that shows impressive correlations between charismatic leadership and high

performance and satisfaction among followers. People working for charismatic leaders are motivated to exert extra work effort and, because they like and respect their leader, express greater satisfaction.

However, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that charisma may not be generalized; that is, its effectiveness may be situational. Moreover, recent setbacks at many companies led by charismatic leaders suggest that there is a dark side to charisma that can potentially undermine organizations.

Charismatic leadership may not always be needed to achieve high levels of employee performance. Charisma appears to be most appropriate when the follower’s task has an ideological component or when the environment involves a high degree of stress and uncertainty.

This may explain why, when charismatic leaders surface, it’s more likely to be in politics, religion, wartime; or when a business firm is in its infancy or facing a life-threatening crisis. In the 1930s, Franklin D Roosevelt offered a vision to get Americans out of the Great Depression. In the early 1970s, when Chrysler Corp, was on the brink of bankruptcy, it needed a charismatic leader with unconventional ideas, like Lee Iacocca, to reinvent the company. In 1997, when Apple Computer was floundering and lacking direction, the board persuaded charismatic co-founder Steve Jobs to return as interim CEO to inspire the company to return to its innovative.

In addition to ideology and environmental uncertainty another situational factor limiting charisma appears to be level in the organizational. Remember, the creation of a vision is a key component of charisma. But visions typically apply to entire organizations or major divisions. They

tend to be created by top executives. As such, charisma probably has more direct relevance to explaining the success and failures of chief executives than of first-line supervisors. So even though an individual may have an inspiring personality, it’s more difficult to- use his or her charismatic leadership qualities in lower-level management jobs. Lower-level managers can create visions to lead their units. It’s just harder to define such visions and align them with the larger goals of the organizations as a whole.