Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is the Charismatic Leader a Super Hero?

The Charismatic leadership model offers other challenges to researchers. Often charismatic leaders are viewed as superheroes that swoop down in a moment of need, reminiscent of fictional characters such as Batman and Superman. Within organizational development, finding these heroes becomes even more challenging during times of crisis. Jacobsen (2001) showed that all the conditions that should create the charismatic leader’s appearance, does not. Shamir, House, and Arthur (noted within Jacobsen’s study) mapped the conditions when charismatic leaders appear. The charismatic leader’s appearance is most apt when: 1. The situation is perceived to threaten important values, 2. The relationship between performance and goal achievement is nebulous, 3. The situation is unstable, and 4. The task requires exceptional effort. Attempting to reconcile some sense of pragmatism between the superhuman traits under Jacobsen’s concept with the realism under Callan’s views makes identifying the traits, conditions, and environment that much more problematic to uncover.

Jacobsen tried to bridge the gap empirically by identifying six historical figures deemed charismatic by their transforming an organization, country, or movement. Some individuals included John F. Kennedy, Lee Iacocca, and Adolf Hitler. The biggest challenge with attempting to gauge the charismatic leadership models’ impact on organizational development under Jacobsen is that it happens after the fact. Once the event is over and recorded by history, researchers are tasked with attempting to analyze and articulate what happened. This is more the challenge with monumental events. The impact of the event cannot be thought until it transpires. Contemporary CEOs such as the late automotive designer John DeLorean and Hewlett Packard’s (HP) Carly Fiorina, who was ousted by HP, are not emblematic of the invincibility attributed to the charismatic leadership model. Though they were rising stars at one point of their careers, they could not maintain the luster of the charismatic leader. The subjectivity of the charismatic leadership model makes it such that success is measured far into the future compared to the objective standards ascribed to the traditional leadership model. With the traditional leadership model, the CEO enhances stakeholder profitability, cuts costs, and expands into new markets or does not.

Jacobsen, C. (2001 Spring). Dynamics of charismatic leadership: A process theory, simulation model, and tests. Leadership Quarterly, 12(1), 75.

Related: Charisma

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