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A reflection on charismatic leadership

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military com...
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I am naturally skeptical about charismatic leaders, but I have seen its power in action.

Just before GEN Petraeus left our college to take command in Iraq he gathered faculty and students in our large auditorium, which seats 2500.

He spoke in a very relaxed manner, hardly the tone you might expect for a guy getting ready to take on the most politically sensitive mission around, one frought with peril, and which could go wrong in a thousand different, easily imaginable ways

It was surprisingly intimate moment, as he spoke humorously with and about his aide de camp and some of the other majors in his morning running group

he spoke frankly about the challenges ahead and the values we were going to use to see our way thru the fog and danger.

after about 10 minutes there was a palpable feeling that we were in good hands at the top and that we were going to prevail, and that if there a way thru the forest we were going to find it

it was the opposite of demagoguery, yet charismatic in its own way in that it was authentic, and appropriate and somehow “fit” who we all were at that moment in time

So, I am intrigued by charisma, where it comes from, how it works, why it works, and all that jazz 😀

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  1. March 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    The Charismatic leadership model is effective when organizations are experiencing high attrition rates among personnel, budgetary restrictions (furloughs and cut-backs), increased sick-outs and low morale. In these instances, employees often seek intangible rewards, which reaps recognition and appreciation, which charismatic leadership engenders. Charismatic leadership is supplemental. Consequently, organizations can maintain their structure and protocol under the Traditional leadership model and still incorporate charismatic leadership. The Traditional model deals more with the quotidian aspects of corporate operations, while the Charismatic leadership model deals with special cases and interpersonal challenges that arise requiring advanced knowledge of human nature and the ability to move seemingly recalcitrant obstacles.

    Drawbacks to the Charismatic leadership model are: Some leaders become megalomaniacs, exhibit strong dogmatic points of views and can be controversial when they feel their expertise is being refuted. These points speak to the notion that all leadership models carry a certain amount of baggage or “down side.” The same virtues of the Charismatic leadership model also can be vices. It’s one of the only leadership models where most individuals operate or create organizations through sheer force of personality. If the charismatic leader wasn’t occupying his current position within an organization, he very well would start his own company, crusade or religion. Eminent sociologist Max Weber talked about the “Routinization” of charisma. Under the routinization of charisma, the charismatic personality is infused into the structure or bureaucracy for the perpetuity of the organization superseding the physical presence of the charismatic leader. In other words, the survival of the organization, department or project after the charismatic leader no longer exists. Quite often, the momentum, tenacity and philosophy dissipate after the charismatic leader is no longer active. According to Grace Fleming (N.D.), instructor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia :

    A major problem with charismatic leadership is that group success tends to hinge on the leader. The charismatic leader is the glue that holds a group together. So what happens if the leader should have to step down or transfer? Normally, the group dynamic will fizzle and individual members will lose enthusiasm (Para 3).

    The charismatic leader is invaluable in building on preexisting structures, but either need a successor or specific guidelines carried out by dedicated adherents for the work to continue. This is one of the major differences between Charismatic leadership and Transformational leadership. Under the Charismatic leadership model, power is consolidated within the individual. With Transformational leadership, power is dispersed to adherents.

    Pundits who lambast the Charismatic leadership model often attempt to have it both ways. They desire the passion and drive of the charismatic leader, but fault him for not being more transformational. Pundits hold the charismatic leader responsible for not empowering subordinates whom are relegated to mindless sycophants. It was eminent philosopher Thomas Carlyle who said individuals seemed “hard-wired” for hero worshipping. Charismatic leaders can inspire, but true motivation, action and responsibility must come from individual efforts.

    Edward Brown
    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute


    Fleming,G.(N.D.). Student leadership styles: Charismatic leadership. About.com guide. Retrieved from: http://homeworktips.about.com/od/studymethods/ss/leadership_4.htmFf

  1. March 24, 2010 at 9:03 pm
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