Friday, July 23, 2010

Charisma Through Ideas

Often charisma is experiential based on the connection between the charismatic leader and followers. But, could charismatic leaders be detached from adherents and connect purely through ideas? Weisberg (2010) asserts that there is a difference between the charismatic traits of Presidents Clinton, G.W. Bush, Reagan and Obama. Clinton, Bush and Reagan were described as “relaters” in that they made visceral or deep connections with the people they came in contact with through shared experiences and common interests. A great deal of their political savvy was attached to this ability to “feel the other person’s pain.” However, Obama is described as cool, aloof, detached, not warm, and highly analytical. Supporters are more enamored with his ideas than his connectivity. If this description of Obama is correct, how does this bode with the idea of his being charismatic?

Such a notion actually upends the traditional concept of charisma as a driving force based on sheer magnetism. If ideas can be described as charismatic, what is more important, the message or the messenger? Ideally, the pure charismatic is a combination of both. He can arouse audiences with a compelling idea through sheer passion and steel determination as well as conceptualize the larger vision. To the point, either President Obama fits squarely into the Charismatic leadership model albeit less of a connector than Clinton, Bush and Reagan, has some traits of charismatic leaders, but is not a full- fledged charismatic or charismatic ideas stand on their own devoid of the charismatic personality. If research suggests that the prototypical charismatic leader has a compelling vision as well as passionate oratory, than the message is only part of the total picture. In reading Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” there is no evidence that Obama has a mesmerizing personality nor had a far reaching vision such as that demonstrated by Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. In fact, there is no evidence provided in “Dreams from My Father” that Obama had political ambitions, let alone aspirations for the presidency. This is in stark contrast to Bill Clinton’s political aspirations in David Marinnass’ book, “First in His Class.”

The compelling passion of an overarching vision is so intertwined that one would be hard pressed to determine where the idea begins and where the passion articulated by the charismatic leader ends. All told, President Obama would probably best fit into the category of possessing some charismatic traits of charismatic leaders, but not a full-fledge charismatic. As articulated in the movie, “V for Vendetta,” ideas are perspectives. Without the will, passion and fortitude of the charismatic leader, ideas mean nothing in the long run. Action is the active ingredient for moving a mere idea to its ultimate manifestation.

Can ideas be charismatic? Only when the will of a leader is committed to an overarching vision tailored to the need of the people who believe the time has come and waiting would engender a missed opportunity.

Related: Charisma


Weisberg, J. (2010 Feb. 1). Alone in a crowd. Newsweek, Vol. 155, Issue 5, p. 14-14, 1p.

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