Leadership Strategies for a Changing World
When looking at some of history’s greatest leaders, whether in politics or business, one characteristic that typifies the vast majority of them is that they are charismatic. Charming, graceful, some of the best leaders provide a sense of excitement and attraction that helps to gather followers and maintain a sense of momentum about the work that they are doing. To that end, the following focus paper explores charismatic leadership as a concrete, quantifiable leadership style, and my own assessment of the charismatic qualities of my leadership will be examined in light of the theory itself.
Charismatic leadership is often thought to be synonymous with transformational leadership (Shamir, House and Arthur, 1993). In either case, charismatic leadership is characterized by a management style that focuses chiefly on building emotional attachment to the leader from followers, facilitating motivational and emotional arousal, and increasing the self-esteem of followers (Shamir, House and Arthur, 1993). With charismatic leaders, followers are expected to self-sacrifice for the sake of the leader and the group dynamic. Charismatic leadership is said to provide “meaningfulness to work by infusing work and organizations with moral purpose and commitment, rather than by affecting the task environment of followers” (Shamir, House and Arthur 1993, p. 578).
While charismatic leadership has the benefit of facilitating a tremendous amount of loyalty and good will in followers, there are also some pitfalls and conceptual weaknesses to charismatic leadership. For instance, unlike transformational leadership, charismatic leadership is far more likely to “emphasize the need for radical change that can only be accomplished if followers put their trust in the leader’s unique expertise,” instead of the former theory’s emphasis on bringing out the best attributes of the follower (Yukl 1999, p. 301). There is also some confusion as to what actually constitutes ‘charismatic’ behavior among theorists, making a universal, objective assessment of a ‘charismatic’ leader difficult (Yukl, 1999).
For the sake of my own assessment as a charismatic leader, I chose to take the charismatic leadership self-assessment tool contained in Hellriegel et al. (2010). I scored a 3 out of ten points on the self-assessment tool, indicating that I do not prefer to be a charismatic leader. Examining the nature of the tool, it is clear that I like to focus on logic over emotion, practicalities over pipe dreams, and more. If I were to desire to close the gap on my deficits in charismatic behavior, I would need to focus more on building up the team and focusing on optimistically taking risks. Charismatic leaders seem to value making bold choices in order to build confidence in their followers that the leader knows what they are doing; I must learn to be more open to these choices in order to improve my capacity to become a charismatic leader.
One of the most valuable things I have learned about charismatic leadership is that one of its central components is building up confidence in the leader as a symbol of integrity and morale. The role of a charismatic leader is to instill faith in them that they will see the team through a situation and come out the other side on top. Charisma is an important component in creating visible, inspiring leaders who help make followers more productive by coercing them into identifying with the leader (Hellreiger et al., 2010).
In order to benefit from the advantages of having a charismatic leader, it is vital that said leader have a tremendously gregarious presence and an emotional investment in their workers. Charismatic leaders must be future-oriented, big-picture thinkers, as they must build momentum for projects and teams without having them be bogged down in details (Yukl, 1999). Furthermore, care must be taken to maintain the charisma in a chosen leader, as it is possible to lose that charisma over time (Yukl, 1999). If charismatic leaders are unable to keep follower loyalty, even in the face of a substantial failure, their relationship with the follower and the trust that has been accumulated will cease to exist.
Charismatic leadership is a fascinating and bold leadership style that leads to a tremendous amount of visibility for its subjects, though that can be transitory and lead to other problems in the future (Yukl, 1999). Charismatic leadership has a tremendous effect on follower self-concept, as the idea of having a charming, charismatic leader back and support you can provide followers with heightened self-esteem, self-worth and self-efficacy, as well as a personal identification with the leader that instills loyalty (Shamir, House and Arthur, 1993). Some downsides, however, include the need to focus on generalities and lose a sense of pragmatism in order to become charismatic, as well as the potential for lost charisma that can come with inevitable project failure (Shamir, House and Arthur, 1993). However, given the immense benefits of good followship that comes with charismatic leadership, it would benefit leaders to incorporate at least some elements of this leadership style into their current philosophies.
Hellreigel, Slocum, Woodman & Bruning. (2010). Organizational behavior. Cengage Learning.
Shamir, B., House, R. J., & Arthur, M. B. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic
leadership: A self-concept based theory. Organization science,4(4), 577-594.
Yukl, G. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic
leadership theories. The leadership quarterly, 10(2), 285-305.