Sunday, June 27, 2010

Charisma: A Random Experiment on Influence

Recently, I gave a seminar titled, "The Principles of Charismatic Leadership” at the 2010 Power Networking Conference held in Downtown Atlanta at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. The seminar was filled to capacity, much to my surprise. There were several other seminars going on at the same time, which made the attendance even more special. I gave an overview of the philosophy behind charisma and asked the audience, “What problems or challenges does charisma solve?” I favor the Problem Based Learning Model, which essentially is solution oriented in its mechanics. The solutions I received that charisma addressed ranged from moving up the corporate hierarchy using advanced interpersonal skills to persuading and impacting audiences to fulfill a mission.

Shortly after, I divided the room into two groups and asked participants to choose a candidate for President of the United States. After some internal campaigning within both groups, two men were selected (the groups were nearly equally divided with women and men). The two candidates had to give a stump speech at which the audience would vote collectively for the next President of the United States. The two men did not have a platform of issues and were relatively unknown, until that day, by the general audience. Guess who won?

Without much information, contact or questioning, the audience chose the candidate who aroused the greater of emotions, spoke about the difficulties ahead, and talked about the interest of the audience’s children and grandchildren (sound familiar?). The same “hot buttons” that real politicians use to get elected worked during a staged, impromptu election.

Can the tools and machinations of charisma work in situations where an individual has to go in “cold” without any knowledge of the people he or she has to influence? This random experiment suggests they can when they know the common motivation, interests and desires of the populous.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Impact of Narcissism on Charismatic Leadership: The Conclusion

Narcissists and charismatic leaders often are so commonly link, one cannot determine where one personality trait ends and the other begins. While all narcissists are not charismatic, it is believed that all charismatic leaders have some form of narcissism greater than the average individual. The hard-wiring of narcissists is highly Machiavellian in that they have “changeable” or mutable consciences. Instead of being tied to a specific method of getting things accomplished, narcissists change their minds and paradigm according to the needs of the situation. Consequently, narcissists are difficult to pigeon hole, because they adapt to a situation for the sole purpose of winning. As Vidal Gore once stated, “It’s not enough to win, the other guy has to lose.” This will to achieve is believed to stem from early childhood experiences of degradation that positioned the narcissist to excel at all cost. Lubit (2002) asserts that narcissists are inclined to leave projects unfinished once they become bored. Conversely, Fleming (N.D.) contends that charismatic leaders become inextricably tied to a project. So much so that the challenge is motivating the charismatic leader to leave or delegate power rather than remain, once the mission has been accomplished.

Charismatic narcissists are often more persistent than the average individual based on the need to achieve. This drive is a benefit for organizations in that the charismatic will stay the course until the task is accomplished or deem the challenges unwinnable. As noted earlier, the downside is the unwillingness for charismatics to leave or create a succession plan once a goal has been achieved. Evidence also suggests that charismatic narcissists will abdicate the mission or forego alliances if persisting acts contrary to their self-interest.
All in all, charismatic narcissists can be beneficial in creating an innovative, fast paced and groundbreaking environment for employees. Their “Big Picture” sentimentalities allow for individuals to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. For charismatic narcissists, accomplishing a grandiose mission becomes the driving force of their existence.

As demonstrated by musician Prince, Hitler and Stalin, the mission is so critical for vainglorious and self-aggrandizing measures, anyone who poses either a threat or ceases to be valuable will be eliminated. Charismatic narcissists are persistent in their endeavors and will unload any “baggage” at will. In their minds, they are indispensable where everyone else is expendable.

For organizations wrestling with charismatic narcissists, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of this type of leadership. For organizations that are receding, irrelevant and complacent, charismatic narcissists can be valuable for jump starting the organization. The cautionary note is to have parameters, boundaries and oversight to the actions of charismatic narcissists. Not to have some measure of control is fodder for the charismatic narcissists to wreak havoc on the long term aspirations of the mission. Like fire, charismatic narcissists can be beneficial for building an organization or they can obliterate everyone and everything around them if left unchecked.


Fleming,G.(N.D.). Student leadership styles: Charismatic leadership. guide. Retrieved from:

Lubit, R. (2002), ‘The Long-Term Organizational Impact of Destructively Narcissistic Managers’, Academy of Management Executive, Volume 16, Number 1, pp. 127–138.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

What Sacrifices Would Charismatic Personalities Make to Achieve Their Goals?

If the charismatic narcissist uses individuals to affect a bigger mission, would he sacrifice individuals for the sake of he mission? Bizumic and Duckitt (2008) contend that given the choice between self-interest and the interest of others, the charismatic narcissist will choose self-interest. They cite information pointing to the fact that both Hitler and Stalin were willing to give up their countries when it no longer served their goals. When Hitler realized that he would lose the war, he started to despise Germany and was ready to sacrifice it, saying, “Germany is not worthy of me; let her perish” (quoted in Hershman & Lieb, 1994, p. 187).

So whether it is the musician Prince switching out bands for the sake of his music or Hitler and Stalin abdicating their country for individual gain, research suggests that the charismatic narcissist is relentless when achieving a goal and will discontinue and forsake all alliances when it is in his best interest to do so. The upside for corporations and organizations is that usually a charismatic narcissist has checks and balances through by-laws, corporate governance and board of directors. The recent debacle in the housing and financial industries reflects what happens when a megalomaniac goes unchecked—he brings down a company. Both empirical and theoretical evidence suggests that narcissistic individuals
lack integrity. For instance, narcissism has been found to be negatively related to integrity outside of organizational settings (Mumford et al., 2001).


Bizumic, B. and Duckitt, J. (2008 June). My group is not worthy of me: Narcissism and ethnocentrism. Political Psychology, vol. 29 Issue 3, p. 437-453, 11 p., 5 charts.

Hershman, D. J., & Lieb, J. (1994). A brotherhood of tyrants: Manic depression and absolute power. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Mumford, M. D., Connelly, M. S., Helton,W. B., Strange, J. M., & Osburn, H. K. (2001). On the construct validity of integrity tests: Individual and situational factors as predictors of test performance. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9, 240–257.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Narcissism Fuels Passion Within Charismatics

In many respects, narcissism is the fuel that prompts charismatics to go farther than the average individual in achieving goals within and without crisis situations. Eminent psychologist Alfred Adler described this aspect of narcissism as the “Superiority Complex.” Maniacci (2007) asserts:

They see others from the vantage point of who is above—or below—whom. If they are not on top, they feel grossly inferior. Others tend to feel inadequate around them. They are overly responsible, too involved, and far too controlling. When confronted with the possibility of not being superior, these people blame, attack, and criticize others. They may be wrong, but others are more wrong than they are. They hate the notion of not having a purpose in life, and they often work too hard and far too long. Winning is everything, and they are willing to cut corners, cheat, or even hurt others if they perceive themselves as losing. Winning is not the only thing: It is everything. They are excessively concerned with their appearance, and while they often take care of their outward appearance through dressing well and superb hygiene, they often neglect their inner health, both emotionally and physically. They are far too busy achieving to be worried about such things, and after all, they are special, so they don't have to worry about diets, sleep, and their health—nothing could ever happen to them (p.138-139).

When these characteristics are exemplified within charismatics, it is often seen as “missionary zeal” and “the love and concern” for people. In actuality, people are mere pleasantries utilized to implement and bring to fruition an ultimate goal. “In advance of performance, narcissists seem to care most about attaining desirable rewards associated with meeting or exceeding performance goals, and they typically show less concern about the prospect of failing to achieve the desired goal” (Wallace, et al, 2009. P. 79). It is important to note that these vainglorious acts are cultivated by an enabling culture. Western culture, which relishes and embraces its Judeo-Christian leanings, inherently support the narcissism of individuals generally and charismatics, specifically. A tenet which espouses man being created in the image of an omnipotent God-head, by definition relegates man to a superior position. If everything is created by a superior being than how did man become the inheritor of this largesse? Man’s self-importance, through scriptural edict or ethnic domination, saw fit to find self-defining roles to pit his esteem against real or perceived adversaries. “Throughout history, the pretense of masculine superiority has had to be continually reinforced by patriarchal laws, religion, and cultural rituals and ceremonies that elevated men and made woman subservient, all too often through the application of brute power and violence. The appearance of harmony between the genders was more often the experience of subjugation by fear, male dominance followed by the submissive acts of women who had been stripped of power and status in the world” (Bitter, 2008, p.271).

Bitter. J. (2008 Fall). Reconsidering narcissism: An Adlerian-feminist response to the article in the special section of the journal of individual psychology. The Journal of Individual Psychology, vol. 64, issue 3, p. 270-279, 10p.

Maniacci, M.P. (2007 Summer). His majesty the baby: Narcissism through the lens of individual psychology. Journal of Individual Psychology. Vol. 63, Issue 2, p.136-145, 10 p.

Wallace. H.M., Ready, C.B. , and Weitenhagen, E. (2009 Jan-Mar.). Narcissism and task persistence. Self & Identity. Vol 8, Issue 1. P. 78-93, 16. Chart.