Thursday, May 27, 2010

Charisma, Narcissism & Power

It is challenging to objectively demarcate the impact of narcissism on charismatic leadership, because narcissists can be very compelling and persuasive without necessarily being charismatic. The Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute defines Charisma as “The creating of perceptions that impact the mind and emotions of others through flair, finesse and glib language.” In other words, charismatic personalities utilize emotional and mental stimuli as a means of control. While they create perceptions and experiences that draw others in, they operate from biological and environmental influences. Narcissists and charismatics share similar traits including the desire for power and control. Bitter (2008) suggests “In the end, it is not self-confidence or even self-love that takes center stage: It is power, control, demanding-ness, privilege, and exploitation. Narcissism may be a part of the disorder, but it is not the disorder itself’ (p. 277). Guilfoyle (2005) suggests that charismatics emerge from early childhood experiences,” Research in the fields of leadership and social psychology offers evidence that charismatic behaviours are learned and regularly emerge from adverse early experiences. Many charismatic personalities it seems were talented children who experienced family crises and counterbalanced those early losses with self-sufficiency and a stronger sense of purpose in their lives” (para 7). Eminent philosopher Thomas Carlyle said that individuals were “hard-wired” for hero worship. That catapulting images and personalities into demigods seemed to be in the human DNA. In addition, Bitter (2008) says,” Human beings, it seems to me, do indeed absorb the dominant culture, even when a given individual may not be a privileged part of that culture” (p. 273). If Carlyle’s impressions are correct then it is reasonable for adherents to worship narcissists and by association, charismatic leaders. With the deification of narcissists, narcissists have turned the hardwiring of worshipping inwardly. As individuals look outwardly for iconic representatives, narcissists have found their hero within themselves.


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, vol. 64, issue 3, p. 270-279, 10p.

Guilfoyle, D. (2005). Charismatic communication: The importance of form. Retrieved from:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prince: The Fusion of Charisma & Narcissism

An example of narcissism fused with charismatic leadership, in a nontraditional sense, is the musician Prince. Since 1977, Prince has maintained total creative control over his work including: writing, producing, singing and playing all the instruments on his recordings. Unlike many groups who begin as equal partners splitting revenue proportionally, Prince has switched out band members according to necessity. Reportedly, Prince is notorious for having a tight rein on his individual work as well as the acts he produces. There have been countless books extolling the virtues of collaborations and team building. While, Prince has worked repeatedly with some of the same artists, he shifted the big group concept of the 1960s and 1970s opting to use technology to truncate the process. Where ten to fifteen musicians used to frequent a performance, Prince used five musicians, excluding himself. Singlehandedly, Prince slashed the notion of big bands and summarily ushered in the one- man show with the big band sound. Prince showed the dispensability of artists under his tutelage as he formed different bands as he experimented with new music. Charismatic leaders find innovative means of trumpeting their mission when the number of adherents is paltry. For the charismatic narcissist, this speaks to the notion that the mission, crusade or idea is bigger than individuals. Individuals are mere means to an end and operate to bring bigger-than-life ideas to life.

Related: Charisma

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Charismatic Leadership: Going Against the Grain

Charismatic leaders have often been lambasted for creating chaos and shaking things up within organizations and on the world stage. One typical criticism might be,”He’s trying to change the way we do things around here—overnight.” Another criticism is taking on more responsibility than the capacity of an organization allows. While these assessments may be warranted, what really is going on inside the charismatic that tumult is almost implored? In short, why must he go against the grain? While this core question goes to the heart of charismatic motivation requiring expansive discussion, the fundamental reason charismatics go against the grain is the rightness of their cause and the certainty of their ideas. This sounds pretty cliché’ given the fact that many people who are not charismatic share similar sentiments. However, there is a difference. While many non-charismatics are content to express a contrary opinion on occasion, charismatics have an insatiable need to live a contrarian worldview. They view the world from a perspective not even conceived by the masses. This is more the case when the charismatic is a voracious reader. Left alone in the field of ideas, the unthinkable is possible. To the charismatic, his lineage is tied to the likes of Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Napoleon. His reading varied from Machiavelli to Rousseau. Not only are his visions epic, his imagination is kaleidoscopic. With all this internal activity going on, how could the charismatic not see the world different from dilettantes and neophytes? If anything, he is a prisoner in an external world of mediocrity and apathy.

But, lamentations are not necessary for the plight of the charismatic as he traverses the path of his ambitions. No more than for the plight of biological and environmental conditions that produce any entity that is occasionally at odds with its social environment. Why do charismatics go against the grain? Because they have to! If it is a choice, the choice is so compelling, it feels like a compulsion.