Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are You a Charismatic Leader? A Qualitative Analysis

Edward Brown, M.S.

Researchers are challenged with developing instruments to measure the impact of charismatic leadership on organizational development. At first glance, it would appear logical that the same measures that apply to measuring other leadership models should be apropos for measuring charismatic leadership. Rowold and Laukamp (2009) reported that existing empirical support highlights the positive relationship between charismatic leadership and subjective indicators as important to organizational success. However, there are few studies that have examined the relationship between charismatic leadership and objective measures. Rowold and Laukamp asserted that this lack of measuring objectivity makes it difficult to view charismatic leadership through objective lenses. Following Rowold and Laukamp’s perspective to its logical conclusion suggest that charismatic leadership is difficult to validate because of its subjective nature. If charismatic leadership is founded on the vagaries and capriciousness of individualized responses, it becomes not only challenging to quantify its effectiveness but also to decipher the immutable principles that can be taught to budding leaders and managers within corporate structures.

Quite often, researchers use tools such as the Likert Scale (Trochim 2006) to gauge a respondent’s feelings and opinions about a particular topic on a rating scale usually from 1 to 5 (1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”). From the results of a random sampling of a number of people, a final determination is made based on averages.  The Likert Scale is effective for political polling, taste testing, or gauging the receptivity to this fall’s fashions. However, the subjectivity postulated by Rowold and Laukamp suggest that charismatic leadership entails other factors that make objectivity less obvious. Other researchers have suggested that charismatic leadership is often defined after an act as been completed.
If charismatic leaders are evaluated after heroic deeds have been accomplished, it is logical to qualitatively measure charismatic leadership through historical case studies. As such, a template can be drawn to replicate the mode of thinking endemic of charismatic leaders. Drucker (Flaherty 1999) posited that “Practice precedes theory, which means that it is the doer who initiates a concept, but it is the scholar who translates it into a theoretical principle” (p. 89).       
A complete qualitative measure for charismatic leadership would entail the following:
  • Has in some way transformed the standard thinking or operations within an industry or profession
  • Very little, if any distinction, between the individual’s personality and the service or product
  • Creation of a memorable experience which would ordinarily be viewed as mundane

  • There is a seismic shift within the organization or the people around the leader
  • Conventional wisdom or status quo is challenged
  • Visceral emotions about the leader (You either love him or you hate him, little gray area)
  • Others begin emulating the leader without compunction

This qualitative measuring is in no way exhaustive, but it does begin the alignment of the subjective experiences of respondents. Collective subjectivity in this instance can begin the objectivity of measuring charismatic leadership based on a standard.  If an individual fits the qualitative measures of charismatic leadership, this is a start in effectively measuring this brand of leadership. Perhaps, the uniqueness of the charismatic leadership model requires qualitative measures over quantitative analysis.

For more information, visit:


Flaherty, J.E. (1999). Peter Drucker: Shaping the managerial mind. San Francisco: CA.Jossey-Bass
Rowold, J., and Laukamp, L. (2009 Oct.). Charismatic leadership and objective indicators. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 58(4), 602-621

Trochim,W.M.K.(2006). Research methods knowledge base. Retrieved from:

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