Monday, January 31, 2011

A World Without Charismatic Leadership

I am providing a philosophical challenge that is purely speculative and filled with conjecture. What would the world be like without charismatic leadership? It is easy to suggest that charismatic clerics, political leaders, corporate CEOs and innovators would be nonexistent and the myriad of contributions society has come to enjoy would be null and void. But, would this void be felt? More importantly, would society still have progressed without these colorful figures? The most sanguine proponent of charismatic leadership would have to concede to a rational conclusion that the rippling affects of charismatic personalities would not be felt if it was absent from the zeitgeist of contemporary society. Furthermore, opponents of the charismatic leadership model would assert that charismatic leadership, while inspirational, does not lend itself to creating tangible value, particularly, after the charismatic leader no longer exists. The same pundits point to the narcissism, megalomania, and self-delusion of charismatic leaders. Even if opponents are correct in their assessment, is it possible for them to step back for a moment and objectively and unemotionally analyze any semblance of value created by charismatic leaders?

Like most unknowns in life, we do not miss what we do not know about. If there were no charismatic leaders and society was totally unaware of a concept called charisma, we would not miss charismatic leadership. This sounds like an obvious conclusion, but if philosopher Thomas Carlyle is correct and people are “hard wired” for hero worshipping, we would have created a charismatic concept out of a sheer need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. The most challenging thing for most contemporary people to deal with is the absence of hope. If individuals could not find hope in a living, breathing person, they would find it within inanimate objects. To this day, there are religions that worship objects representative of a higher deity. Since the dawning of humankind, individuals have looked for external forces to rationalize unusual and unexplained events. The human brain will find seemingly illogical means to align and justify its greatest desires absent any tangible or factual evidence. Facts are even pushed aside to assuage these yearnings.

So, what does this mean for charismatic leadership or the absence of? It means that people would go on existing, but subconsciously search for their self-created deliverer. Heroic deeds of common men would become epics. The daily drudgery would persist and stories and mythology would emerge to fill in the emotional gaps. And these epics would be recited in song.

In the end, charismatic leaders fill a visceral void within the psyche of individuals. The most heinous crimes attributed to charismatic leadership, in the name of honor and self-respect, filled an emotional need for a cadre of people. Corporate innovations have emerged through charismatic CEOs who inspired creativity in what might have been a stodgy environment. Opponents of charismatic leadership are myopic or short sighted about the charismatic person, event or concept that shaped their lives. To believe for a moment that we are devoid of the impact of charisma and its potency would be illusory.

Even the most scientific mind craves inspiration to make life more bearable.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Charismatic Personalities Do Best

In reminiscing about the impact of charismatic personalities, an interesting thought came to mind that reflects the greatest attribute they possess. While, remembering various past experiences is normal for most people, charismatic personalities create visceral and long term memorable experiences. An apt metaphor would be recalling the scenes of a movie that somehow captured a past experience that spoke directly to you. Years may go by and certain lines from the movie have made an indelible mark on your psyche. A true charismatic does the same thing. Thirty years could elapse and the exact experience you had with a charismatic personality feels like a recent event. The conversation could have been brief and mundane by conventional standards, but charismatic personalities have the ability to make the most mundane aspects of life exciting. If you were to describe the experience to someone else blow by blow, the person would look at you strangely, attempting to find the punch line. It would be similar to hearing a funny joke by a comedian and trying to recite that same joke to someone who had not heard it. The joke would fall flat! Charismatic personalities create experiences that you have to be present to appreciate. The best raconteur cannot capture the true essence of a charismatic moment.

To be fair, the individual experiencing a charismatic personality brings certain expectations and aspirations to the fold when dealing with the charismatic personality. His preconceived notion about the charismatic personality feeds into the expectations of certain behaviors. If one is already in awe of a charismatic personality, there is little that the charismatic personality has to do, but exist. This is the difference between a non-charismatic personality exhibiting charismatic traits and an authentic charismatic personality. The non-charismatic personality may not be able to respond “on call,” without advance preparation. Contrarily, the charismatic personality merely has to “be.”

By pointing out the impact of charismatic personalities on individual lives, it is essential to give credence for those endowed with this “X” factor. Charismatic traits can be learned, but the true charismatic personality is a product of hard-wiring, environmental influences, insecurities and a keen understanding of human nature.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Charismatic Personality: Isolated & Alone

In the past, I have referred to the charismatic personality as requiring a high degree of “self- containment,” isolation and solitude. Typically, I referred to these elements of detachment cavalierly as if the charismatic personality had a choice in the matter. Well, of course, there is always a choice, but such passion and focus lends itself to a natural cocoon, which he operates within. To work in order to transform a piece of intellectual real estate for the sole benefit of the charismatic’s need for distinction goes far deeper than most people’s desire to engage in work merely to enjoy the finer things in life. To the world, the charismatic’s isolated reality seems depressing and filled with despair.

Opponents of such asceticism ask,”Where is the joy, balance and love for life?” For the charismatic, building a body of work that supersedes physical existence is the joy itself. Immersing oneself in the process from idea to fruition is fundamentally what the charismatic lives for. His mission and ideas cannot be relegated to the metrics of quantitative analysis nor can the completion of a mission be forecasted on a calendar. The charismatic who wishes to astound the world with his brilliance works in the field of ideas with reckless abandon. If aloneness and solitude overtake him, it is only because he has pushed the envelope too far into areas where most men fail to endeavor out of fear as well as the lack of imagination. If the charismatic is a tragic figure, it is because his world is an amalgam of all the great ideas that came before him trying to find relevance in a world that has stopped thinking.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Charisma & Other Modes of Leadership

Most, if not all, leadership models have a built-in objective of getting the leader to persuade a group of people to accomplish a goal the group either does not want, lacks the will to accomplish or requires more effort than the group is willing to expend. Every now and then, a charismatic leader comes along who inspires individuals to believe in something bigger than themselves. This individual woos the audience with emotional pleas of achieving far reaching goals requiring a collective effort. Although charismatic leaders seem better able to impact crowds more effectively than other leadership models, the object of persuasion is similar to other leadership models.

However, what would happen if leaders merely led by example without any notion as to who was following? What if aspiring leaders took compelling ideas and made them the hallmark of a modern day crusade? Once more, if leaders looked behind less would they become more foresighted? The response to these questions are speculative, but it is reasonable to believe that if one concentrates all his energy on the plan and road ahead, he relies less on the vagaries and capriciousness of people. Contemporary leaders often spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to determine how well they are doing with constituents. Yes, there should be a degree of concern for the people one leads, but not to the extent where such concern dilutes the leader’s focus.

If nothing else, the long road of preparation for leadership engenders a high degree of confidence within the leader himself as well as the guidance sought by followers. For the leader to second guess himself or look to followers for answers would be counterproductive and antithetical to the credibility and validity of the prepared leader.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Price of Charisma

For every upside there is a downside. In this regard, charisma is no different. While many people pine and strive to be more magnetic, under the guise of being unique, for bona fide charismatic personalities, there is some anguish. True charismatics are highly sensitive and feel the ebb and flow of human nature at the cellular level. Tuning into the nuance and connections with others requires a substantial amount of psychic energy. The passion exhibited by charismatic personalities stems from the energy derived from compelling ideas as well as insights about human nature.

In this sense, charismatic personalities are not doing, they are merely being. To be charismatic requires much more than drawing people in, often it means pushing people out. The energy absorbed by psychically engaging others can be extremely draining. The charismatic personality cannot afford to expend energy within inconsequential venues. Often, non-charismatic personalities believe charisma is about constant connections and being all things to all people. This could not be farther from the truth. Not only does the charismatic personality not desire to connect with all people, he may view his mission as limited to a finite number of individuals. Mentally, his mission is clear and he sets out to impart only the variables that tie directly to the mission. Focused discipline requires that a highly evolved filtering process be in place to insure the completion of the mission. For the charismatic personality, completing the mission is a do or die dichotomy. Nothing is more important!

Related: Charisma