Charismatic Leaders

They're often thought of as heroes that are able to use their personal allure to lead others.  But charismatic leaders can be both a blessing and a curse on society.  That's because charisma can be used for the good of a company or nation, but also for less-than-honorable reasons too.

Pros and Cons of Charismatic Leaders

Charismatic leaders use their personal charm to get things done.  This can be an extremely powerful way to lead others.  In fact, such strong influence can be achieved over followers that these leaders can make certain individuals accomplish some pretty extraordinary tasks.

Pros

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Charismatic leaders have the ability to sense the gap that exists between what an organization is delivering to its followers, and what the followers need from an organization.  This allows the leader to create a vision of a future state that everyone believes will be better than today's environment.

The charismatic leader often articulates this vision using metaphors and stories in such a way that everyone can understand the vision.  The followers see the leader as one that possesses the ability to visualize the future with clarity.  The followers are also able to see how they fit into this future state, and believe it will be better than today.

Since followers can see themselves in this future vision, they support the goals of the organization and the leaders more readily.  Rather than resorting to coercion, the charismatic leader builds trust among followers.

Cons

Charismatic leaders achieve their vision through persistence and personal sacrifice.  They oftentimes become role models for their organizations.  Since followers share in the vision, they are empowered to make decisions that move the organization more quickly towards their goals.

Some followers may find this transformation uncomfortable and disruptive to the workplace or to them personally.  Others may have difficulty relating to the vision of the future.  Charismatic leaders also rely heavily on their personal charm, and perceptions, which could be significantly influenced by rumors or "negative press."

Examples of Charismatic Leaders

History has painted a picture of former Presidents that have been both charming and charismatic.  However, there have also been leaders with less honorable intentions too, even outlaws.

John F. Kennedy

Arguably the most charismatic President of the United States, John F. Kennedy came from a powerful family, and was blessed with good looks in addition to his personal charisma.

Due to the charisma and style of John and Jackie, the Kennedy White House became known as Camelot.  Alan Jay Lerner, Kennedy's Harvard classmate, even wrote a hit song "Camelot" for the Broadway musical, which was a personal favorite of President Kennedy.

Charles Manson

It was mentioned earlier that charismatic leaders could also use their influence for less-than-honorable purposes; the classic example of this abuse is Charles Manson.

Some people believe it was a combination of the drug LSD coupled with Manson's charismatic personality that allowed him to manipulate others.  In the end, Susan Atkins along with other members of the Manson family, were found guilty of the murder of the 26-year-old movie actress Sharon Tate and four others.

Charismatic Leaders in the Workplace

As mentioned in previous articles, situational leadership abilities can be an important factor in determining success or failure.  When place in certain conditions, charismatic leaders can help to transform a company.

In fact, these charismatic qualities are very similar to those found in transformational leadership roles.  They can lead organizations into new areas, inspire followers, and sometimes obtain extraordinary performance and results from an organization.  First described by Max Weber in 1947 as one of three leadership styles (Bureaucratic, Traditional and Charismatic) the study of this style later evolved with the thoughts of Burns into a transformational leader.

Whether Weber or Burns is correct in their model of leadership styles is not important, what is important is to understand the skills they practice or possess. There appear to be at least four stages in the evolution of a charismatic leader, and they achieve these results by appealing to the followers in very simple ways.  When such an individual finally achieves the status of "hero," the organization is likely to have been rescued.


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