Monday, May 30, 2011

Charisma: Men, Women, & the Will to Power

Dear Mr. Brown:

Recently, I read an article you wrote suggesting that charisma and charismatic leadership were concepts more male-oriented than female- centered. I was livid over your comments! However, after my husband read the article, he gave me a different perspective on charisma, men, and power. I can’t say that I am totally comfortable with this difference, but I can appreciate your candor. For some reason, I still feel a bit of sexism in the distinction of men being more prone to charisma than women. Is there a middle ground?

Wendy Henderson
San Francisco, CA

Dear Mrs. Henderson:

Thank you for your passionate comments. For some time I wrestled with my analysis on how charisma played out between men and women. Initially, I tried to be politically correct by making it equal to both genders, but felt that I was not being totally honest about the research surrounding charisma. Nietzsche spoke of the “Amoral Superman” replacing the concept of a God figure. My interpretation of Nietzsche’s concept suggested that unflinching, ambitious men would capture the imagination of the masses and become the idol that society worshipped. Ultimately, this has happened. In a sense, powerful and ambitious men have become deified replacing God as a figurehead. This will- to- power is evident in a patriarchal world where naked aggression is acceptable among men, but denounced among women. When I ask groups of men and women to name charismatic individuals, names such as: Former President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, Denzel Washington, and Oprah Winfrey top the list. As I delve deeper into what makes these individuals charismatic to the audience, terms like: Great communicator, empathy and magnetism are suggested. However, as I inquire further about Oprah’s purported charisma compared to the men on the list, viewpoints begin to change from charisma to engaging, empathetic and inspirational. Although Oprah’s success hinges on media power, her brand is inspirational, not power. She emphasizes strength and empowerment, but not power and control per se. At the core of charismatic men is the acquisition and maintenance of power using communication, engagement and inspiration as a means of achieving it. Rarely would charismatic men appear as accessible and vulnerable as Oprah Winfrey. As a matter of fact, appearing vulnerable to that degree is oppositional to the concept of power in a patriarchal society. Although it may be changing, studies suggest that even women envision men in charismatic leadership roles over other women.

Power, control, mission, aggression, tenacity, crusade, etc… are often terms relegated to the motives of men, which serve as the basis for charismatic men having a deeper interest and proclivity to these terms. Women exercise a different type of power that would not fit within the charismatic leadership model. However, pundits have not stopped placing women like Oprah in the charismatic leadership category. At this point, I respectfully disagree with the experts that opt to do so.

Edward Brown
Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute

For more information, visit: Charisma

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