Overview of Charismatic Leaders and Their Impact on Followers
This article focuses on the charismatic leader and their impact on followers. There are several personality traits that can factor into a leaders ability to take on charismatic status. These include determining if the individual has a dominate personality, a desire to influence, self-confidence, and a strong sense of moral values. Still others believe that charismatic leaders often have a symbiotic relationship with his or her followers and can take on an “us vs. them” mentality. The charismatic leaders power comes from the followers in a referent structure. If the followers no longer look up to the leader, that charismatic status is gone. It would appear that in order for a charismatic leader to emerge, followers must desire change. Looked at in present light, the resulting change may not always be appreciated by the followers. Charismatic leadership can emerge in a positive or negative environment.?
OVERVIEW OF CHARISMATIC LEADERS AND THEIR IMPACT ON FOLLOWERS
There have been charismatic leaders for thousands of years. These individuals seem to be able to transform a normal leader-follower relationship into something more. Extensive research has been done concerning charisma and charismatic leaders and most would agree that these unique individuals have a profound effect on those around them. Leaders like Plato, Reverend Jim Jones, Jack Welch, and former President Bill Clinton all carried the label of “charismatic leader”. Some researchers believe that these leaders derive their influence based on having a unique set of followers and a unique set of circumstances (Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy 2012). Being in the right place at the right time may be germane to being considered a charismatic leader. This paper will endeavor to define the charismatic leader and describe how these leaders are different. In addition, this paper will profile follower groups and seek to understand how follower and charismatic leaders impact each other. Lastly, the report will explain the societal view of the charismatic leader of today and their impact on those around them.
The term charisma is a Greek word that means “divinely inspired gift”. Lussier and Achua (2010) further defined charisma by relating research done by 19th century sociologist Max Weber as saying that charisma is “a form of influence based not on traditional or legal-rational authority systems but rather on follower perceptions that a leader is endowed with the gift of divine inspiration or supernatural qualities”. Using Webers definition of charisma, one would be led to believe that charismatic leaders are elevated to this super-leader status because of how they are viewed by the followers. Taking this concept one step further, a charismatic leader is one who his or her followers have elevated to a perceived level of authority for reasons that go beyond what might be considered normal leadership traits like self-confidence, humility, and trustworthiness (Dubrin, 2010).
While defining charisma provides an insight into leaders with charisma, it does not explain how charismatic leaders are different. The available research varies with regard to how charismatic leaders differ from other leaders. Northouse (2013) believes these leaders personality and behaviors set them apart in a few distinct ways. First, charismatic leaders have a very dominate personality. They seek to be in charge and want to influence others. Next, they have a strong moral value that they believe gives them the authority to do what they think is right. Lastly, through a dominate personality and strong sense of their morale value, they have an unwavering self-confidence that gives them the inner strength to defy popular opinion. This dominance factor pushes them to do things their way and their inflated sense of morale value tells them it is the right way. The end result might very well be a feeling of “my-way is the right-way”. These personality characteristics, according to Northouse (2013), drive charismatic leaders to exhibit specific behaviors.
The first such behavior is being a strong role model. Whatever their beliefs, they typically are strong role models to back up these beliefs with actions that support their belief. A good example of this is former Democratic President Bill Clinton who is revered for his belief that the way to build a strong America is for both US political parties to work together. He backed this up on numerous occasions by working with the republican party to ensure critical bills were passed. His beliefs and actions were celebrated by both political parties leading up to the 2012 presidential elections (Antle, 2012). Secondly, according to Northouse (2013), charismatic leaders must be competent and they must demonstrate this competence to their stakeholders. Thirdly, most literature agrees, they must have a strong ability to articulate goals. Followers must be able to envision how business, life, or economy, will be better by following this leaders vision. Fourthly, leaders with a high level of charisma are able to communicate high expectations for themselves and others. Lastly, these special leaders are keenly aware of follower motives and are able to arouse these feelings through words and actions. These personality traits and behaviors seem to be the key to eliciting a response from followers according to Northouse (2013).
Other researchers have credited different traits and behaviors to the typical charismatic leaders (Humphreys, Zhao, Ingram, Gladstone & Basham, 2010) which describe narcissism as a key trait of the charismatic leader. This is not a stretch considering Northouses description of a charismatic leader having both self-confidence and strong moral values as hallmark personality characteristics. Additional researchers point to traits that may seem on the surface to be in contrast to the traits pointed out by Northouse, (2013). Roger Eatwell (2006) approached charismatic leadership from a social perspective when he outlined missionary vision, symbiotic hierarchy, and Manichean demonization as key traits of charismatic leaders. Vision is a common agreed upon trait from many of the researchers. Symbiotic hierarchy however was not outlined as a trait of charismatic leaders in any of the other literature reviewed. Symbiotic hierarchy, Eatwell contends, is achieved by the leader downplaying their charisma and trying to be thought of as a servant of the people. Manichean demonization is when an individual attempts to build cohesion by demonizing others perceived as enemies. Both of these were particularly true in the case of Adolf Hitler according to Eatwell (2006).
There are many examples of charismatic leaders over the last two centuries however this paper will examine four; two that were perceived as positive role models and two that many would look at as negative influencers. The first, Martin Luther King Jr., has been referred to as a charismatic leader by most researchers (Chappell, 2009). Reflecting back on what Northouse (2013) outlined as key personality characteristics of charismatic leaders (dominate, desire to influence, self-confident, strong moral values) and Eatwell (2006), (vision, symbiotic hierarchy, and Manichean demonization) it would be hard to argue that Dr. King did not have many or all of these traits (Duffy & Besel, 2010). Vision, strong personality, self-confidence, strong moral values, symbiotic hierarchy and galvanizing his followers against another group were at the center of Dr. Kings philosophy (Chappell, 2009).
Another Charismatic leader that many would say has been positive is Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Mr. Welch has written several books and has had many articles written about him. His philosophy on business along with his personality traits are well documented (Boseman, 2008). Look no further than his legendary Acid Test and 4-Es and 1-P theories to get an idea of his personality. This charismatic leader uses different words than our researchers, but they mean the same thing. Welch talks about integrity and doing the right thing. This is very similar to morale value that Northouse (2013) discusses. Next, Welch discusses the ability to energize others. Again, different words but similar desire to influence others. The third E that Welch discusses is “edge” which he describes as the courage to make tough decisions and the fourth E is “execute” to get the job done even in the face of adversity. While again different words, a very similar description to dominate and self-confidence. Welch uses terms like “the ability to see around corners” instead of vision but they mean the same (Welch, 2005). It is interesting how closely the definition and personality characteristics outlined by the research have aligned with King and Welch.
Other, less positive, leaders have emerged in the research as being very charismatic but with negative outcomes. The first is Adolf Hitler. When one thinks of the definition of charismatic, Adolf Hitler often comes to mind. Hitler has been described as a visionary with a strong desire to influence others (Low, 2010). In addition, most would agree Hitler had strong moral values and was very self-confident until the end (2010). While his moral compass did not align with most of his era, he had conviction for his values. Unlike the two earlier positive charismatic leaders, Hitler more closely matches the Symbiotic hierarchy and the Manichean demonization described by Eatwell (2006). In fact, one might argue