Monday, January 31, 2011

A World Without Charismatic Leadership

I am providing a philosophical challenge that is purely speculative and filled with conjecture. What would the world be like without charismatic leadership? It is easy to suggest that charismatic clerics, political leaders, corporate CEOs and innovators would be nonexistent and the myriad of contributions society has come to enjoy would be null and void. But, would this void be felt? More importantly, would society still have progressed without these colorful figures? The most sanguine proponent of charismatic leadership would have to concede to a rational conclusion that the rippling affects of charismatic personalities would not be felt if it was absent from the zeitgeist of contemporary society. Furthermore, opponents of the charismatic leadership model would assert that charismatic leadership, while inspirational, does not lend itself to creating tangible value, particularly, after the charismatic leader no longer exists. The same pundits point to the narcissism, megalomania, and self-delusion of charismatic leaders. Even if opponents are correct in their assessment, is it possible for them to step back for a moment and objectively and unemotionally analyze any semblance of value created by charismatic leaders?

Like most unknowns in life, we do not miss what we do not know about. If there were no charismatic leaders and society was totally unaware of a concept called charisma, we would not miss charismatic leadership. This sounds like an obvious conclusion, but if philosopher Thomas Carlyle is correct and people are “hard wired” for hero worshipping, we would have created a charismatic concept out of a sheer need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. The most challenging thing for most contemporary people to deal with is the absence of hope. If individuals could not find hope in a living, breathing person, they would find it within inanimate objects. To this day, there are religions that worship objects representative of a higher deity. Since the dawning of humankind, individuals have looked for external forces to rationalize unusual and unexplained events. The human brain will find seemingly illogical means to align and justify its greatest desires absent any tangible or factual evidence. Facts are even pushed aside to assuage these yearnings.

So, what does this mean for charismatic leadership or the absence of? It means that people would go on existing, but subconsciously search for their self-created deliverer. Heroic deeds of common men would become epics. The daily drudgery would persist and stories and mythology would emerge to fill in the emotional gaps. And these epics would be recited in song.

In the end, charismatic leaders fill a visceral void within the psyche of individuals. The most heinous crimes attributed to charismatic leadership, in the name of honor and self-respect, filled an emotional need for a cadre of people. Corporate innovations have emerged through charismatic CEOs who inspired creativity in what might have been a stodgy environment. Opponents of charismatic leadership are myopic or short sighted about the charismatic person, event or concept that shaped their lives. To believe for a moment that we are devoid of the impact of charisma and its potency would be illusory.

Even the most scientific mind craves inspiration to make life more bearable.

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