Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Charisma Unchecked

The shortcoming of many leadership models is that they view human nature idealistically at its core. This overly optimistic view of people often leaves the aspiring leader insufficiently equipped to build upon. The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a belief system is determined by what emanates from its core that affects the desired results. Most religious reformers like John Wesley, founder of the Methodist faith, based their religious zeal on the notion that man is decadent and through a higher power he can only be saved. Man left to his own devices would wreak havoc on the world much more than he has without the buffer of religion, laws and governance. While the temperament of man among other members of the animal kingdom, may not be the most destructive (scientists have said that the temperament of a baboon is such that it would nuke the whole world if it had the capacity), the consequences of his decadence is evident throughout the world. There is no true utopia where all are treated justly and fair. Every economic system throughout the world has its version of the "Haves" and the "Have-Nots".

To be totally responsible and accountable for one's lot in life comes with great toil. This is the kind of work that most people would rather pass on to someone else. Whether it's dictatorships or representative forms of governments, the citizenry ultimately opts for those who aspire to govern, so that they may pursue their leisurely lives in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Charismatic leadership fills the void because the leader is willing to do what the next man is unwilling to do. The idea of transformational leader calls for leaders to "get inside" the people they are trying to influence. The Ohio State Leadership Center online newsletter, Leadership Discoveries warns against the abuses of leaders having charismatic appeal: A leader's use of power reflects integrity.

Leaders who lack integrity can rely upon deceit and manipulative methods to get people to follow their agendas for the leader's benefit alone. Power becomes a potential danger if leaders have their focus on themselves or on building resources alone rather than on building their followers (Bass & Steidlmeir, 1999). Two of the most obvious perils in leadership are pride and egoism (Sanders, 1994). The Leadership Discoveries newsletter goes on to suggest that leaders and organizations may institute safeguards to prevent against such abuses. While this is a great notion, the circular logic that continues asks the question of the role and responsibility of the individual to become astute enough to protect himself.
Remember, human nature consistently operates from its own self interest, it only is altruistic when it engages in "hard-core" altruism for a small cadre of close-knit individuals and the majority of people opt to let others make their decisions for them, because of life's choices have rendered them incapable of being as vigilant. With all these dynamics occurring simultaneously, we are still requiring leaders to check themselves, not for people to check the leaders. The patriarchal notion that people need to be "fathered" is part and parcel why again charismatic leadership gets a bad rap. Charisma leaders should be accountable and responsible, but undue trust and allegiance should never go unchecked.

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