Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Objectifying Charisma

Why is defining "charisma" so elusive? Why do researchers make the same mistake when researching "charisma" as a concept? Why isn't more research done on the genesis of charismatic personalities? In short, rarely is charisma approached scientifically, that is psychologically using empirical data. Typically, a researcher will compile questions to a focus group or random sample asking them their views on charismatic personalities. The common responses will be pared down until a few identified traits remain. These remaining traits will be the foundational attributes given to charismatic personalities. What's wrong with this model? Nothing on the surface! A similar method is used to determine the electability of political candidates. Surprisingly, it's been reported that 800 people surveyed randomly are an accurate reading of what 300 million people are thinking. Essentially, it's a start to characterizing the potential attributes for charisma, but not what makes it work. For example, how was Elvis Presley's charisma formulated? Muhammad Ali? Michael Jordan? Muammar Quadafi? What is the thinking behind charismatic figures who revolutionize an industry through sheer personality and self-expression? Moreover, is charisma required to revolutionize an industry? Is Tiger Woods charismatic? How about the Williams Sisters in tennis? One might surmise that charisma and revolutionaries are mutually exclusive.

If traits like insecurity, ego and visions of grandeur are parts of the charismatic personality, shouldn't they be closely researched to determine its viability? How does insecurity fit into the charismatic attribute if society extols the virtue of confidence? Could societal defined traits purported to being negative actually be an essential trait for charisma? Metaphorically speaking, instead of separating the chaff from the wheat, is the chaff and wheat necessary for charismatic personalities to develop? The overly idealistic or "Polly Anna" defining of charisma won't bring more clarity, only further ambiguity. A phenomenon with such potency on the world stage should not be fraught with so much ambiguity.

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