Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Charismatic Leaders

On the late John Z. Delorean, inventor of the Pontiac GTO and Firebird as well as the DeLorean sports car:

 John DeLorean never cared to fit the mold of a typical Detroit auto executive.  He was a young, free-spirited maverick that revolutionized the auto industry as the major force behind America’s first muscle car– the Pontiac GTO.  He was thought of as a hippie by his older peers for his longish, shaggy hair, and rebellious attitude.  But what they didn’t understand was that DeLorean had his finger on the pulse of youth and trend in a way that no one else did.  He had an uncanny ability to tap into the music, events and attitudes of the time and mine it for nuggets that translated to top-line success.  As the young DeLorean’s star rose, he supposedly walked away from his $650,000 salary at GM and decided to go it on his own.  

Nerves of Stainless Steel/auto maverick John DeLorean. (2009 May 29). The Selvedge Yard.   Retreived from: http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/nerves-of-stainless-steel-auto-maverick-john-delorean/

On the late Steve Jobs of Apple:
One thing he wasn't, though, was perfect. Indeed there were things Jobs did while at Apple that were deeply disturbing. Rude, dismissive, hostile, spiteful: Apple employees—the ones not bound by confidentiality agreements—have had a different story to tell over the years about Jobs and the bullying, manipulation and fear that followed him around Apple. Jobs contributed to global problems, too. Apple's success has been built literally on the backs of Chinese workers, many of them children and all of them enduring long shifts and the specter of brutal penalties for mistakes. And, for all his talk of enabling individual expression, Jobs imposed paranoid rules that centralized control of who could say what on his devices and in his company.

Tate, B. (2011 Oct. 7). What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs. Gawker. Retrieved from: http://gawker.com/5847344

On basketball great Michael Jordan:

Call it ruthless, but this type of narrow-focused mindset is what leads to championships. To MJ, the process of attacking and outmatching the game’s other great players was as important as the resulting hardware on his finger. Forming alliances and creating epic rosters were out of the question. Michael explains, “If I’m trying to get to the top, if Patrick Ewing is in the way, we’re best of friends, [but] he’s still going to be the second place finisher.”

Staph, J. (2010 Nov. 1). Michael Jordan: The Mind and Muscle of a Champion. Stack. Retrieved from: http://magazine.stack.com/TheIssue/Article/7845/Michael_Jordan_The_Mind_and_Muscle_of_a_Champion.aspx

On scientist Craig Venter, one of the first to sequence the human genome:
Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, said "It's very easy to mock Venter.  When he first appeared, people just kind of sneered at him. But they stopped sneering when they saw his brilliance in realizing that the genome was not a problem of chemistry but a problem of computer power. I don't think anybody can deny that that was a monumental achievement and he has been doing fantastically interesting things subsequently with marine life. Having said that, though, the man is clearly a bit of a prick and one with a serial addiction to publicity."

Adams, T. (2012 May 22). Craig Venter: The dazzling showman of science. The Guardian/The Observers. Retrieved from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/may/23/observer-profile-craig-venter

On the late daredevil Evel Knievel:

In addition to making an indelible impact on a generation of kids, Knievel also made an impact on popular culture. His stunts broke television viewership records as often as he broke bones. He inspired songs, merchandise and imitators and he even helped introduce motorcycles to mainstream American audiences.

But while Knievel is well-known for his stunts and fame, his life had darker patches as well. Years of abuse took their toll on Knievel's body, and his personal life seemed to endure almost as many crashes as he did. When it comes down to it, Evel Knievel was as much a daredevil in his personal life as he was in his professional one.

Deaton, J.P. (n.d). How Evel Knievel Worked. How Stuff Works. Retrieved from:  http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/motorsports/evel-knievel.htm

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Leadership Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders

Edward Brown, M.S., of Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute provides questions and answers on the characteristics of charismatic leaders.

Q:  How do you go about dissecting the characteristics and inner workings of charismatic leaders?

Brown:  Essentially, I look at the historical data by individuals who used their personality and tenacity to either transform or create an industry that initially operated in a traditional fashion.  This data may come from case studies, secondary research in periodicals, documentaries, or biographies.

Q:  What other sources do you draw from?
Brown:  The key disciplines I base the foundation of my research on charismatic leadership are psychology, sociology, philosophy, history, and religion.

Q:  Why does your research focus more on the inner workings (psychology) of charismatic leaders rather than what they are doing?

Brown:  Most of the work done about charismatic leaders attempts to describe what charismatic leaders are doing with minimum explanation as to the cause. I am fascinated by the thought of exploring the deeper psychodynamics of charismatic leaders. For example, what if we knew exactly what Adolf Hitler was thinking as he sat in jail writing “Mein Kampf.” Why would Alexander the Great view himself as an epic hero after reading Homer’s “Iliad?” How many people have read “Iliad” in high school, yet are not moved to conquer or dominate an industry?  By looking at the needs of charismatic leaders to become world class heroes allows for a deeper understanding of their behavior. 

Q:  So from all these sources, what are some characteristics of charismatic leaders?

Brown:  Some characteristics entail a desire to perform at peak levels and a need to place their imprint on an organization, department or project. There is very little separation between the charismatic leader’s personality and the crusade or mission. The passion of charismatic leaders stem from developing an idea, religion, or organization and bringing it into reality. The charismatic leader’s motto would be the same as General Electric (GE), “We bring good things to life.”

Q:  What can be accomplished by emulating the traits and characteristics of charismatic leaders?

Brown:  What couldn’t be accomplished?  If one was to mimic the visionary, critical thinking, and strategic planning skills of charismatic leaders, there is nothing the individual could not accomplish within his or her profession.  He or she could literally construct a new life by following the guidelines of charismatic leaders.

Q:  What is the downside of the epic hero mindset of charismatic leaders?

Brown:  There is very little gray area in alternatives. Once a charismatic leader has done the critical analysis of an issue by weighing the pros and cons, there is no turning back or room for negotiating.  The charismatic leader views his course as the Holy Grail.  Individuals providing opposing options might be looked upon by the charismatic leader as mere mortals commenting on divine things. Charismatic leaders are quite vainglorious when it comes to their mission in life.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Can Charismatic Leaders Handle the Challenges of Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management is the collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and utilization of knowledge (Newman, 1991).  In a global economy, the most important skill set necessary for a company to become or remain cutting edge is its ability to gather internal and external knowledge and create value that can be imparted to customers and clients. The economic transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age denoted the importance of individuals becoming specialists in areas that are in demand.  In fact, the notion of quantifying results of productivity in the Industrial Age has transformed in the Information Age.  Drucker (Flaherty, 1999) suggested that the measurements necessary for determining productivity during the Information Age requires judgment by the knowledge worker which is more qualitative than quantitative.  This measuring rod by the knowledge worker is the evolution of specialized knowledge.   Drucker postulated that during the Industrial Age, manual workers were at the command and direction of machines. Contrarily, in the Information Age, machines are at the behest and direction of knowledge workers. What this means for managers is that knowledge workers are at a premium and can leverage more power. Individuals who can create productivity and profitability based on specific knowledge for companies have control unparalleled from any period in the past. Consequently, since power has shifted to knowledge workers, it takes a different type of leadership for organizational development as well as knowledge worker acquisition and maintenance. Often, the charismatic leadership model is best suited during times of uncertainty as well as a driver for continuous innovation.

 There are a few traits that make charismatic leaders uniquely qualified for knowledge management.
1 1.    Charismatic leaders are known for being visionaries.  Actually, charismatic leaders are excellent at dissecting and deciphering inefficiencies within the marketplace. The visionary traits attributed to charismatic leaders are often a result of compiling facts, critical thinking, and finding solutions to various problems.  The late Steve Jobs of Apple is an excellent example of charismatic leader’s ability to discover inefficiencies within the marketplace.  By looking at the marketplace and the emerging needs of consumers, Apple’s invention of I-Tunes transformed the music industry into marketing and selling music differently online.  Charismatic leaders utilize the skill set of knowledge workers to formulate and guide innovation aligning with the long-term growth potential of the organization. 

  1. Charismatic leaders create disciples within their ranks.  The idea behind loyalty stems from the belief that relationships are symbiotic and mutually beneficial to the participating parties. In other words, the more value you create for individuals within an organization, the more loyal these individuals become towards you. By fulfilling latent or hidden needs within people, they become your eyes, ears, and mouthpiece within the organization.  By becoming the “go to” person within your organization, you become known inside and outside the organization as a person who can get the job done as well as breed loyalty within employees. The ability to read and fulfill the needs of individuals is a valuable trait during times of uncertainty. Charismatic leaders create disciples by recruiting, grooming, and setting standards for employees.  In turn, followers try to reciprocate by meeting these standards.  In this vein, the symbiotic relationship between charismatic leaders and knowledge workers feeds the need for knowledge workers to do meaningful work and in turn become evangelists to colleagues inside and outside the organization. Knowledge sharing between these workers becomes the bedrock for progression.

3    3.  Charismatic leaders recruit and attract disciples within a company. Employees who admire a charismatic leader’s personality and ambition will emulate his style as well as jockey for roles on projects led by the leader. Through these disciples or supporters within the company, charismatic leaders create internal networks that facilitate the acquisition and distribution of information. Such information allows the charismatic leader to be knowledgeable about upcoming threats and opportunities. Because charismatic leaders are agile and mobile when exploiting opportunities, they can determine if an opportunity allows them to play a larger role within a company or leave to set up operations elsewhere. In this vein, supporters might be inclined to leave with the charismatic leader causing a potential drought of skilled workers within a company.

     4. Charismatic leaders commit to the process as well as the outcome. Because charismatic leaders judge themselves by their performance, they commit to the process with the expectation of specific results. However, they ingratiate themselves to the process as “actors,” because the process or system is the fundamental mechanism they can control. Charismatic leaders see a direct correlation between their actions and the desired outcome. Consequently, charismatic leaders view knowledge management as a means of achieving an overarching mission. Because of the control given to knowledge workers by the charismatic leader, knowledge workers commit to the system as well because they are aiding in the creation and development.

Although knowledge workers are self-motivated, needing little supervision, the charismatic leader’s role in this regard is to inspire, suggest, and get out of the way.  As long as the mission is meeting organizational needs, the charismatic leader is a cheerleader for the knowledge worker.

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Flaherty, J.E. (1999). Peter Drucker: Shaping the managerial mind (How the world’s foremost management thinker crafted the essentials of business success). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Newman, B. (1991). An open discussion of knowledge management. The Knowledge Management Forum. Retrieved from: http://www.km-forum.org/what_is.htm