The late business guru, Peter Drucker, noted that successful innovation revealed a unique story usually about a monomaniac consumed by a challenge (Flaherty, 1999). Drucker was not specifically speaking about charismatic leaders, but the commonality is eerily similar. Drucker’s analysis of this fearless leader, who goes against the norm and is iconoclastic in his desire to shatter the limitations of conventional wisdom, is the foundation of this style of leadership. This brand of leadership does not listen to the roar of the crowd and insists on proving an idea correct despite overwhelming criticism. Pundits can attribute traits such as extreme confidence, relentlessness, and steel determination to charismatic leaders. But, what spurs this level of insanity from these individuals and what can be learned by others who fall prey to the roar of the crowd?
Entertainers Will Smith and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs repeatedly note in interviews that their success hinged on an insatiable desire to succeed. Combs actually referred to his ambition as “insane.” The late Steve Jobs suggested that “insanity” was a prerequisite for phenomenal success. Jobs articulated that the time, attention, and hard work it takes to achieve high levels of success would naturally cause the normal person to give up. This purported insanity allows individuals to lead breakthroughs in traditional markets and innovations within new markets. So, how could the average individual adopt the monomaniacal and insane traits of charismatic leaders?
There are several strategies that average individuals can achieve in the vein of charismatic leaders.
1. Have a deep, burning desire for acclaim and distinction. The insatiable desire by charismatic leaders to overcome insurmountable odds developed from an early childhood desire to be significant. Early experiences stemming from abandonment, isolation, or mere low self-esteem sparked imagination in the mind and heart of the budding charismatic leader. For individuals devoid of these life-altering experiences, build a desire from something of general interest and let it consume you. Revisit your childhood and determine what interest or idea has persisted within you, but was placed in the background out of a sense of being a “responsible adult.” Charismatic leaders follow this idea as if their life depended on it.
2. Become a voracious reader and use history as a template for transformation. William Duggan in his book “The Art of What Works: How Success Really Happens” suggested that if a concept or strategy worked in the past, with some tweaking, it will work again in the present. The Biblical Solomon’s proclamation to the world that there is nothing new under the sun is prescient for Duggan’s analysis. Shakespeare said that he made new words out of old words. Charismatic leaders study the biographies, strategies, and tactics of historical figures to conquer new territory that change old systems of thought and operations. By becoming a voracious reader on subject matter pertinent to your ideas, you can begin imprinting your impression on the world.
3. Dream big and spend large chunks of time in isolation. Although charismatic leaders are viewed as “People Persons,” they create and develop many of their ideas in isolation. Thomas Edison spent an inordinate amount of time in his laboratory before inventing the incandescent light bulb. In Dean Keith Simonton’s “Greatness: Who Makes History and Why,” Simonton noted that Albert Einstein professed that his work did not lend itself to social interaction. Einstein Reportedly said, “I am a horse with a single harness, not cut for tandem or teamwork…for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person should be thinking and commanding (p. 388).
4. Use current technology to lead. Charismatic leaders become an army of one before the rest of the population has caught on to an idea. Twenty-two year old Molly Katchpole started an online petition against Bank of America (BOF) after discovering that BOF would begin charging a $5 monthly fee on debit card transactions. After a month, 306,000 people signed Katchpole’s petition causing BOF to reverse its decision to levy the monthly fee. The Internet and social media have allowed individuals to lead crusades that would have required enormous human capital once upon a time. Start a blog, petition, or Facebook page on an important issue that you and others are passionate about and become the vanguard for change.
5. Document your work. Charismatic leaders reflect on their achievements by documenting the challenges and triumphs of their feats for future generations to follow. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the book, “The Prince,” to advise leaders how acquire and maintain political power. “The Prince” is required reading for world leaders as well as students of Political Science interested in political theory. “The Prince” has remained relevant for over five hundred years. As you develop strategies and tactics for changing the world, keep a journal of your process to serve as a tutorial for those who aspire to pick up where you left off.
Changing or influencing the world is an arduous task. However, by emulating the transformational strategies and tactics of charismatic leaders, you too can make a lasting impression on the world stage.
Flaherty, J.E. (1999). Peter Drucker: Shaping the managerial mind, how the foremost management thinker crafted the essential of business success. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.