Researchers on the charismatic leadership model often lambast charismatic leaders for being selfish, self-absorbed, and narcissistic in their dealings with followers. The same researchers criticize followers for being, helpless, mindless sycophants who exhibit codependent traits that rob them of their self-identity. However, very few, if any, researchers have embraced the mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship between charismatic leaders and followers. Philosopher Thomas Carlyle postulated that individuals seem to be hard-wired for hero worshipping. In other words, if there were no demigods to worship, individuals would somehow create their own. Cicero and Pierro (2007) hypothesized that charismatic leadership is positively associated with followers’ work effort, job involvement, job satisfaction, and performance, and negatively associated with turnovers. Cicero and Pierro’s finding agreed with past researchers that charismatic leadership was positively related to work group identification. Also there was a correlation between charismatic leadership and organizational outcomes. Cicero and Pierro results seem to suggest that there is a direct connection between charismatic leadership and employee performance in that employees have a greater proclivity to work optimistically and productively when a charismatic leader is at the helm. De Hoogh et al. (2004) drew a correlation between charismatic leadership and subordinates’ positive work attitudes. Employees had a greater willingness to invest in efforts to achieving organizational goals.
Galvin, Balkundi, and Waldman (2010) discussed the ability of charismatic leaders to develop disciples or surrogates within an organization. The authors said these surrogates promote, defend, and model behavior after the charismatic leader. Charismatic leaders identify and train surrogates, either formally or informally, which allows charismatic leaders to have influence in distant areas within an organization. Surrogates create networks, social processes, and flow information within the organization. These networks serve as means for the charismatic leader to influence an organization by dispersing information. Although a rouge surrogate could harm a networked system by sending information oppositional to the goals of the charismatic leader, the authors note that surrogates are selected to occupy their positions based on the supportive behavior they exhibit in line with the desires of the charismatic leader.
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).
Essentially, the symbiotic relationship between charismatic leaders and followers is based on the need of charismatic leaders to be adored by followers and the need of followers to adore charismatic leaders. In this sense, both parties are getting their needs met. Researchers who denigrate this notion rely on an over-idealistic, extremely sanguine reality of human nature. To deny the personality, experiences, and environmental influences of charismatic leaders is disavowing the evolutionary process that brings these individuals into existence. In addition, the inherent need of followers to achieve hope and certainty in their lives via religious affiliation or charismatic leadership is also disavowed by researchers who attempt to intellectually disconnect an emotional connection.
Instead of researchers attempting to divide the needs of charismatic leaders and followers as a means of establishing some utopic idealism, it would be better to allow the intellectual and emotional relationship to exist between charismatic leaders and followers. In short, allow the charismatic leader to be loved by adoring followers and followers to find encouragement, inspiration, and hope within the ideals of the charismatic leader. Invariably, researchers cannot have it both ways---organizational development, social cohesion, and collectivism at the behest of rugged individualism, hopelessness, and barbarism. The idea of the fully-contained individual devoid of the need for external support, emotional attachment, and unadulterated self-confidence is illusory. Such understanding by researchers suggests a naiveté and myopia about human nature and the world that is counterproductive to social progress.
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, 64(3), 270-279.
Cicero, L., and Pierro, A. (2007 Oct.) Charismatic leadership and organizational outcomes: The mediating role of employees’ work-group identification. International Journal of Psychology, 42(5), 297-306.
De Hoogh, A., den Hartog, D., Koopman, P., Thierry, H., van den Berg P., van der Weide, J., and Wilderom, C. (2004 Dec.). Charismatic leadership, environmental dynamism, and performance. European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology, 13(4), 447-471.
Galvin, B., Balkundi, P., and Waldman, D.A. (2010 Jul.). Spreading the word: The role of surrogates in charismatic leadership. Academy of Management Review, 35(3), 477-494.
Maniacci, M.P. (2007 Summer). His majesty the baby: Narcissism through the lens of individual psychology. Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(2), 136-145.
Wallace. H.M., Ready, C.B. , and Weitenhagen, E. (2009 Jan-Mar.). Narcissism and task persistence. Self & Identity, 8(1), 78-93.
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