Edward Brown, M.S., of Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute provides questions and answers on when and why charismatic leaders use personalized charisma.
Q: First of all, what is personalized charisma?
Brown: Andrew J. Dubrin in his book, “Leadership Research Findings, Practice and Skills,” defined personalized charisma as a means of a leader utilizing their persuasive powers for personal gain.
Q: That sounds manipulative, how is this important to students of charismatic leadership?
Brown: Because charismatic leadership is the predominate leadership model where sheer personality is its effectiveness, a charismatic leader has to use highly advanced interpersonal relationship skills to get things done. The charismatic leader is not afforded nepotism or job promotion in leading a mission or crusade. Consequently, manipulation might be necessary to affect a desired outcome.
Q: Is this where charismatic leadership gets its bad reputation?
Brown: To a large degree, yes. However, the act of manipulation speaks to the naiveté of individuals as opposed to anything a charismatic leader does.
Q: How so? What do you mean?
Brown: How many times have you tried to persuade someone to act in a way that benefits society as a whole? If people are basically selfish and motivated by self-interest, what evidence can be provided that suggests that people are inclined to do the right thing for the good of society without some level of persuasion? Without religion, government, and laws, we would have total chaos. We have these institutions in place and still crime is rampant in the U.S., the freest country in the world.
Q: Your point is clear, but isn’t the secret to manipulation lost once you reveal its motivation?
Brown: On the contrary! The hard-wiring for people to believe in hope or something bigger than themselves makes the manipulation process viable. I heard a minister once say that if he found out that there was no God, he would continue worshipping God anyway. He received an “Amen” from his congregation, but how logical is such proclamations?
Q: Are you excusing the manipulation of charismatic leaders, because people have faith and need to find hope where they can?
Brown: I don’t attribute negative connotations to words like “manipulation” or “self-interest.” When a politician, you haven’t seen in four years, kisses your baby on live TV during a reelection campaign, do you vote for him because of his political platform or because he made your family celebrities for 15 minutes? In most cases, individuals don’t even know the platform issues of politicians. You don’t vote for a politician necessarily because of his views, you vote based on how he makes you feel. Your self-interest on feeling good is more important than a politician’s views.
Q: So, what’s the answer?
Brown: The French philosopher Rousseau said that humans ceased to be whole as soon as they were touched by civilization. Every day we all are persuaded, influenced, or manipulated on some level. The point is not to deny this reality, but to be vigilant when persuasion, influence, and manipulation act contrary to our self-interest. Even charismatic leaders cannot act contrary to the will of the people without the people’s permission.
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