The current "Age of Individualism" has ushered in a new paradigm for leadership development---the charismatic leader. Charisma is defined by Dictionary.com as "A spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people." The Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute defines charisma as "The creating of perceptions that impact the mind and emotions of others through flair, finesse and glib langauge."
Charismatic leadership is a form of leadership often discussed in passing, but rarely explored through scholarly measures. It is a controversial form often admired, but also bastardized. Eminent sociologist, Max Weber (1864-1920) is credited for being the first person to demystify the term "charisma." Up until Weber, charisma was viewed as an intangible trait bestowed upon a chosen few. Charisma was seen as a religious term and thus not viewed as possessing secular traits. Weber articulated that charisma was a learned skill set that was the most effective and important among bureaucratic and feudalistic forms of leadership.
Out of these three forms, charismatic leadership had to be earned and cultivated. With bureaucratic leadership or legal-rational, where a person is appointed or elected, the institution rewards the individual who pledges his allegiance to the hierarchy. By showing a degree of competency, that individual may ascend to the top seat. While he needs adequate communication skills and the ability to get along with others, he is largely supported by the infrastructure. With feudalistic or superior/subordinate leadership, power is often inherited and competency is implied. Keeping power and position within the family creates dynasties.
Contrary to these forms, charismatic leadership relies on the will, passion and personality of the individual. He has to sell his ideas and initiatives to the populous to get its buy-in. This leader does not have a hierarchy or infrastructure that supports his leadership. Instead, he rallies support from pure imagination and tenacity. Charismatic leadership is the most difficult type of leadership to achieve and the most challenging to maintain.
Weber talked about the "Routination" of charisma, where charismatic leadership builds institutions purported to outlive the leader. The controversy arises in whether these institutions can survive the mortality of the charismatic leader. Charismatic leadership is the essential model where a person has to literally sell his vision to unbelievers with the hopes of creating behavioral change. In the current "Age of Individualism," the task often appears daunting and insurmountable. The late Maynard H. Jackson, former Atlanta Mayor, once told a group of aspiring leaders that leadership is less about meeting to discuss agendas and more about creating momentum through a compelling idea that people want to follow. The idea that the populous is somehow well versed on the ideal leader is out of step with reality. Charismatic leadership has thrived throughout history because an awe-inspiring personality drives a vision to its manifestation in response to an unmet need within the populous. Witness the charismatic styles of Martin Luther King, Jr. versus Adolph Hitler.
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