Monday, February 28, 2011

Charisma, Decentralization & the Downfall of Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi

During the 1980’s, Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi was a rock star. Changing his sleeping locations nightly to thwart any attempts of assassination, Gadhafi’s charismatic personality as well as his flair for fashion made him the most popular renegade since Che’ Guevara. Reminiscent of Mao Tse Tung’s “Red Book,” Gadhafi’s “Green Book” was the quintessential tome on socialism. Gadhafi’s bloodless coup in 1969 set the course for a drive towards Arab unity. But, how did a man who’s bigger than life personality and early calls for unity become so fractionalized?

It would be logical to point to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that sparked the unrest in a number of Middle Eastern and African countries. It would also be rational to suggest that global economic depressions, high unemployment rates and a desire for western style freedom became a more compelling idea than socialism or “managed” democracy. Like many charismatic leaders, Muammar Gadhafi would have been better served by adopting the power moves of Russia’s Vladimir Putin rather than that of the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. After Putin became ineligible to run for a third term, Dmitry Medvedev was elected Russia’s president, while Putin became prime minister. It is believed that Medvedev is nothing more than a proxy for the machinations of Putin to maintain power. However, that is the point. To create the symbolic illusion that a democracy exists, Putin did not exercise an overt grab for power, which would have been reminiscent of the old Stalin days. Instead, he took another political position, decentralizing power and spreading his influence through other leaders. These maneuvers led to the expansion of his political base by increasing the number of powerful supporters.

By Gadhafi positioning his sons and daughter to succeed him, he sowed the seeds of discontentment among Libyans in a time where egalitarianism has been ushered in by the Internet. By not being prescient about current events and its impact on governmental operations, Gadhafi was weakened by his unwillingness to alter his modus operandi. With the onslaught of the Internet and multimedia, no one wants to feel that his country is precluding him from self-actualizing. It would be altogether different if the world was not digitally connected. But, as the Internet has become the ultimate democratizer of education, blind allegiance has become impractical.

In addition, if Gadhafi had supported non-familial ties for his political ambitions, he could have been a kingmaker without losing any direct power. An analogy would be a parent company that owns the leading brands under its banner, which allows these brands to compete against each other in the market place. The parent company does not care which brand wins, because all revenue go to the same source. Gadhafi should have promoted other leaders in a succession plan and operated in the background while influencing decision makers. American style politics has shown the power of political machines that last for decades without any backlash from the citizenry. As long as the voting public perceives it has a voice in the outcome of an election, it will support the process.

Like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Gadhafi underestimated the impact of the changing times. To simplify the current tumultuousness within Libya would underestimate the power of progress. If power is at the base of geopolitics, the changes being demanded by Libyans and surrounding countries are not about totally reforming the political game as much as changing the players to compete more effectively. This is no different than trading a less productive player in professional sports for a more productive one. Gadhafi is paying the price of not possessing greater foresight. In a competitive world of power, such blindness is the beginning of the end of a dynasty.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Charisma & the Scientific Method

Periodically, there are studies that emerge that attempt to quantify aspects of charisma. The typical study entails a focus group where individuals are asked to rate certain traits to determine a subject’s level of charisma. Visuals often entail analyzing the actions of the purported charismatic person. By using a rating or Likert Scale, the traits that define charisma are provided a ratio or final number. By creating a mechanism by which charismatic traits can be measured, a random sampling of participants derives the notion that charisma is quantifiable. As such, if an independent researcher was to follow the same format, he should receive similar results. Over a period of time and experimentation, the intangibility of charisma cannot only be measured, but evolve from a mere hypothesis to a theory to ultimately a law.

Fundamentally, using aspects of the scientific method to legitimize or delegitimize the validity of charisma is not necessarily an ineffective idea on face value. There are physical manifestations that may be common among individuals possessing charisma. The challenge in quantifying charisma is when “X” factors or unknown variables come into play. For example, if research suggests that narcissism, visions of grandeur and insecurity play significant roles on the psyche of charismatic personalities; would the initial results of a charismatic study be valid? Would these additional factors skew our overall impression of a charismatic personality? If we discovered that a charismatic leader manipulated the emotions of a populace for his own gain, would we think he was less charismatic once his true intentions were revealed? Or is charisma pristine when it is safely ensconced in the deep recesses of our untainted imaginations?

These inquiries speak to the intangibility of charisma that has escaped measurement. Social scientists often measure the physical manifestations of charisma, but not the three-fourths of charisma that lie beneath the persona. This is essentially the reason charisma in its motivation and application is difficult to measure. A charismatic act does not determine a charismatic personality. If researchers assert that there is a distinct divide between measuring the traits of charisma versus the psychodynamics of charismatic personalities, they would be correct. However, all too often, leading university researchers attempt to take shortcuts in academic studies by not delving deeper into the motivations and psyche of charismatic personalities. By taking the route of merely measuring outward manifestations, it leads to greater misconceptions of the comprehensiveness of charismatic personalities. Left to its own devices, imitation of charismatic mannerisms would falsely lead to the notion that there is an uptick in the number of charismatic personalities. When in fact, there has been an increase of acting to induce a charismatic response. To thwart such results, researchers must and should go deeper than surface appearances. By fundamentally dissecting known charismatic personalities in history and creating case studies that outline the critical factors that shaped their personalities, charismatic traits would take backseat to the genesis and motivations of charismatic personalities. Moreover, common psychological traits would emerge that are quantifiable in conjunction with a qualitative analyses providing context to the charismatic trait itself. To leave out these important pieces in understanding the totality of charismatic personalities is a sure sign of inept scholarship.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Could Possessing Charisma Have Saved Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak?

For all his personal traits, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was not given the sobriquet “Mr. Charisma” by the world community. Very little is known about Mubarak and he seemed to have played an insignificant role in African-Middle Eastern politics. That is at least the impression. However, in all fairness, very few world leaders actually fit the prerequisite characteristics for being labeled “charismatic”. Such characteristics typically entail highly evolved communication skills, a compelling vision for a populace and the ability to continuously reinvent oneself based on the needs of the situation. But, can charisma assist leaders from being ousted from a position without overwhelming backlash from supporters? Specifically, could charisma have helped President Mubarak thwart an ignoble end to a 30 year reign? Although, there are many Mubarak supporters who view his downfall as devolutionary to Egyptian glory, the rippling effects of his departure will not be felt as would be the case of a Fidel Castro. Since 1959, Fidel Castro has been a stalwart for revolutionary politics that has caused fellow Cubans to either love or revile him. Even non-Cubans have an impression of Castro. Not so with Mubarak. To the world, Mubarak did not possess a preternatural charm nor serve as a visionary for Egyptian greatness. Reports suggest that Mubarak has in his coffers $40-$70 billion. This amount is not a vindication of his political prowess as much as another example of governmental greed and megalomania. To this extent, Mubarak is more of the same; denigrating the will of the people for personal gain under the guise of democracy.

But, could charisma have saved him? The answer is yes and no. Within the thirty years of his reign, if Mubarak had laid out a compelling vision for Egypt, either being a global leader in a particular industry, a destination spot for advanced education or an economic behemoth comparable to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, he could have survived. Citizens will allow a certain amount of graft and naked aggression, when they are prosperous and optimistic. Inherently, they understand the nature of politics is rooted in political and economic self-interest. It is a naïve citizenry that believes in the altruism and magnanimity of politicians after centuries of historical accounts demonstrating the contrary. However, the politics of the world has changed where the citizenry and the politician must benefit equally, but the politician must appear subservient to the needs of the citizenry. To this extent, Mubarak was out of step with the zeitgeist of a digital world. In contemporary times, a political leader cannot afford to be greedy, unimaginable and exposed.

On the other hand, no amount of charisma can save a leader who has outlived his usefulness. Charismatic leadership is transitory for situations needing an infusion of innovation. Because the charismatic leader is a crusader for a cause, once the goal has been achieved, he either needs another challenge to overcome or an effective successor for the completed task. The long term success of a leader hinges on his ability to consistently satisfy the immediate and most relevant needs of the populace. A string of past successes are unimportant when critical needs go unaddressed. Charisma cannot fill the gap of unfulfilled needs no matter how likable the leader.

In the end, Mubarak broke all the implied rules for maintaining power. He was not prescient in determining the future needs of the Egyptian citizenry. If he had infused the Egyptian government with new faces and ideas, created political enclaves that played off each other, and encouraged Egypt to be a bigger player in the global economy, he could have maintained power under the guise of democracy. Even if Mubarak did not have a compelling vision for Egypt’s future, he could have placed talented individuals in position and ruled by proxy. Instead, his house of cards fell, because he neither possessed the charisma or savvy to operate in a world where illusions still matter.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Charismatic Leadership: Detached Connectivity

Quite often within political and social circles, you hear of charismatic leaders who have a preternatural love for people. These charismatic leaders appear selfless and altruistic, always willing to go the extra mile for the greater good. To these individuals, the glass is always half full. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are said to have customarily carried “sunny” dispositions. Of course in the political arena, where one has to appear to be all things to all people, the authenticity of whether a true love for people exits is debatable. However, suffice to say that if politicians in general and optimistic individuals, specifically, are more malleable to the foibles of human nature, does this create deeper connections with other people? If charisma, as defined by Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute is, ”The creating of perceptions that impact the mind and emotions of others through flair, finesse and glib language,” do these “lovers of people” emote differently than everyone else or merely better actors?

In viewing the issue from the position of charismatic leadership, emoting and acting becomes very real. If charismatic leaders are performance driven that takes on a messianic veneer, not only are they aware of the foibles of human nature, they have to be vigilant about the damage it can cause. Anyone versed in the basics of psychology and sociology has to give homage to the greatness of the human spirit during crisis situations, but also become suspicious of its potential for mayhem. In this regard, the charismatic leader, steeped in accomplishing a specific mission, has to view the glass as “half full and half empty.” Metaphorically, the glass represents what the charismatic leader knows about the vagaries of human nature, but often masks this dark side with feigned optimism. In a Machiavellian sense, the charismatic leader does whatever is necessary for the situation to affect a desired outcome.

Does this mean that charismatic leaders are frauds preying on the emotionalism of others? Not necessarily. They have keen insights into the motivational needs of others that are often utilized for achieving a certain objective. If the charismatic leader can be blamed for anything, it may be for his belief that he knows what is best for individuals irrespective of their input. The love that charismatic leaders have for others may not be out of magnanimity, but pity. This pity in its manifestations would naturally come out as patronizing, but through the keen awareness of human nature, it flows as optimism. The charismatic leader connects with others to achieve a long term goal, but is inherently detached, because of his prescience of the vagaries of human nature. His motto might be, “Love from afar, but make it feel up close and personal.” Often, people do not want the harsh realities of truth and support anyone who provides a semblance of hope. To this extent, charismatic leaders operate to provide optimism on the front end, while dealing with the muck and mire of diverging forces on the back end. Charismatic leaders know that they cannot have it both ways--pure optimism exclusive of the dark side of human nature-- but have to at least appear that the two sides are reconcilable. Followers of charismatic leaders will not have it any other way.

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