Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Charismatic Leadership: Magnetic or Manipulative?

It is safe to say that charismatic leadership is an orphan in the pantheon of leadership models. Scholars and pundits alike are ambivalent as to the real value of charismatic leadership for helping build coalitions, increase revenue and ultimately encourage followers to become more empowered. Contrary to the traditional meaning of charisma as "a gift from God" or the Greek meaning "Grace in action," contemporary society often characterizes charisma as a manipulative tool to usurp the power and free will of individuals. J.W. Gibson, J.C. Hannon and C.W. Blackwell in The Journal of Leadership Studies point out that:

"There is no way that charismatic leadership is always a good thing or that it is needed in visionary organizations. It seems to be a good thing only when conditions are right and the intentions or the leader are in the best interests of the company and employees. Because of its emotional overtones and its ability to create fierce loyalty, charisma remains a dangerous construct--as capable of working evil as good. Evidence has been noted that suggests that charismatic leadership, while exciting when it happens may not be necessary for sustained growth and health of excellent companies. "1

This is assessment is a far cry from the initial account of charisma as a "gift" or "grace" noted in St. Paul's epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthian, 7:7) and man being encouraged to show his light before the world (Matthew 5:14-16). From the text, charisma is viewed as a special gift, which is individualized. Church scholar, Rudolph Sohm, maintained the concept of charisma under the religious banner until sociologist Max Weber secularized it and positioned it away from the confines of religious dogma.

All in all, it is difficult to ascertain how charisma received such a bad rap. It has scorned many, not because of its negativity, but because its overpowering energy that seems to induce codependency within adherents. No one can discount the good feelings experienced in the presence of a charismatic individual. The enchantment is remembered forever

1 Gibson, J.W., Hannon, J.C., & Blackwell, C.W. (1998). Charismatic leadership: the hidden controversy. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 5(4).

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