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Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

http://jlo.sagepub.com/ Charismatic Leadership: The Hidden Controversy

Jane Whitney Gibson, John C. Hannon and Charles W. Blackwell Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 1999 5: 11 DOI: 10.1177/107179199900500403 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jlo.sagepub.com/content/5/4/11

Published by:

On behalf of:

Midwest Academy of Management

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Charismatic Leadership: The Hidden Controversy


Whitney Gibson

John C. Hannon Charles W. Blackwell Nova Southeastern University Executive


This article looks at three controversial topics related to charismatic leadership: (1) Is charismatic leadership always a good thing? (2) Are we doomed by nature to be either charismatic or not? (3) Is charisma always an ethical constuct? The literature plus a survey of faculty and graduate students at two universities are used to provide tentative answers to these questions. Conclusions include: (1) There is no proof that charismatic leadership is always a good thing or that world-class companies must have charismatic leaders; (2) The nature/nurture controversy is still an open question; and (3) Charisma can be used in an ethical or unethical manner depending on the leaders intent and the amount of ego involved.

About the Authors: Jane Whitey Gibson is a Professor of Management and Director of Business & Administrative Studies at Nova Southeastern University. Gibsons primary area of research is organizational communications and she is co-author of Organizations) Communication: A Managerial Perspective She is also author of The Supervisory Challenge and the Book Review Editor of The Journal of Leadership Studies. Gibson teaches management and organizational behavior at the undergraduate and graduate levels and regularly teaches both online and traditional classes. John C. Hannon has just recently joined Nova Southeastern University as Assistant Director for Operations in the Business & Administrative Studies Division. Previously, Hannon was an Associate Professor at Florida Institute of Technology where he served as Director of an off-campus masters program in Maryland. Hannon serves on the Executive Board of the Management History Division of the Academy of Management and teaches in the areas of management; quantitative methods, and strategy. Charles W. Black&dquo;ll is an Associate Professor at Nova Southeastern University where he served for many years as Director of the MBA program. Blackwell is active in the Academy of Management and the IEEE Professional Communication Society and teaches in the areas of management and finance in both traditional and online formats. His most recent research has focused on the effectiveness of online education. Last year, Blackwell coauthored an interview with Paul Hersey which appeared in this Journal.

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Charisma, that &dquo;youll know it when you see it&dquo; dynamic personality often defined

magnetic and inspirational has received a lot of attention in the last two decades of leadership research. Managers are being told they need charisma to be a successful leader in visionary companies; students are being taught the pathway to certain organizational success is through the use of charismatic leadership. Buried in the literature, however, are at least three areas of controversy. First, is charismatic leadership always a good thing? Further, do world class companies need charismatic leaders? Secondly, assuming charisma is a good thing, are we doomed by nature to either be charismatic or not? Or, is there a way to leam to be charismatic? Is nature, so to speak, susceptible to nurture? Thirdly, is charisma an ethical construct or does the use of charisma all too often result in manipulative behavior on the part of the leader and blind obedience on the part of the follower? The purpose of this article is to step back and take a look at the accumulated literature of the last 20 years and look for answers to these three questions. Further, surveys of both faculty and graduate students will be used to assess popular thinking about charisma in general and the three questions posed above. First, however, a brief introduction to the study of charisma is presented followed by a description of the characteristics and behaviors of charismatics.


Study of Charisma
Websters New Colleaaate Dictionary defines charisma as, &dquo;(1) an extraordinary

given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church, (2) a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure, (3) as attributed to Christian Theology, a divinely inspired gift, power, grace or talent.&dquo; The American Heritage Dictionary explains charisma as &dquo;a rare, personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm,&dquo; and adds that charisma is a power or quality of winning the devotion of large numbers of people.
The term charisma originates with an ancient Greek word meaning &dquo;gift&dquo;. As later used by the early Christian church, the derivative charismata described &dquo;gifts from God that allowed receivers to carry out extraordinary feats such as healing or prophecy.&dquo; (Conger, Kanungo, Menon, & Mathur, 1997, p. 291) It should be noted that this notion of charisma being a gift from God implies that it is an innate character trait rather than one that can be developed.

Early references to charismatic leadership inevitably lead back to Max Weber who posited that there. are three types of authority, three reasons why people give their allegiance to leaders and accept their dictates. These three types were (I) rational-legal, based on ones position or rank; (2) traditional, based on a belief in obedience to a person who occupied a traditional position of authority, and (3) charismatic, based on the sheer force of ones personality. (Wren, 1994, p. 195) According to Weber, charismatic authority was based on &dquo;devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person.&dquo; (Weber, 1947, p. 328)

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While Webers work sparked interest in the idea of charisma applied to leadership, it was not until the late 70s and early 80s that the forces of global competition raised corporate consciousness to a need for serious change. As it turned out, the disciplines of organizational behavior and organizational psychology played a pivotal role in this transformation process. By zeroing in on leaders as change agents these disciplines found that corporate leaders with high levels of motivation, vision, and innovativeness were particularly effective facilitators of organizatiorral change. Books such as Peters and Watermans In Search of Excellence brought these notions to the popular press. Attention became focused on charismatic leadership and today that focus remains constant although sometimes cross-named as transformational or visionary leadership. Most scholars today would agree with Houses 1977 definition of charisma as leaders who have a profound emotional effect on their followers.

(House, R., 1977)

Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders

For decades management theorists have worked on identifying the traits and behaviors of leaders. Today, there seems to be an accepted body of knowledge that identifies the traits or behaviors of charismatic leaders. Leadership texts and articles often describe charismatic leaders as ones who describe goals by painting word pictures, have an exceptional ability to win the devotion and support of followers, have no fear of presenting their ideas to anyone who may be able to help them, and are reputed to possess excellent persuasion and negotiation skills. Their followers want to identify with them and to emulate them; they develop intense feelings about them, and above all they have unrelenting trust and confidence in them. Charismatics as leaders attract intense feelings of love (or sometimes hatred) from their subordinates. As in the early days of the study of the trait theory of leadership, the list goes on and own. Within the last decade a number of authors have attempted to form these leader, follower and situational attributes into a coherent model. We begin with - theorists that tackled charismatic leader traits and finish with a discussion of a contingency based view of charisma. With regards to the personality traits of the charismatic leader, Bryman (1992) identified the following attributes as critical: a presence, a presence of mind, quality of the eyes, physical beauty, use of voice, energy, confidence, and endurance, image of unusual mental attainments, and the power to bring forth an almost pathological response from their audiences. That same year House and Howell (1992), in a review of six field studies, found that charismatic leaders exhibited the following characteristics: high levels of energy, endurance, work involvement, and enthusiasm; cognitive achievement oriented values; strong tendencies to be creative, innovative, and intelligent; visionary and inspirational tendencies; and self-confidence. Charismatic leaders were encouraging, assertive, socially sensitive, and were considerate of their followers needs, and demonstrated a high desire for change and a propensity to take risks.

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Figure 1 shows leaders.

simplified version

of common characteristics of charismatic



Adapted from Nahavandi, A. (1997). The Art and Science of Leadership, Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice Hall, p. 185

The characteristics described in Figure 1 can be better understood when thinking about someone like Dr. Martin Luther King who is generally held to be

charismatic personality. Kings vision for a more racially equitable society was strongly and eloquently articulated. His commitment to the vision extended even to his willingness to go to jail for his beliefs. His sacrifice of personal comfort and willingness to work long and hard hours to advance his cause motivated and inspired his followers.

While charismatic leadership theories that focus on leader traits are often intermingled with theories that focus on leader behavior, it is still useful to segregate charismatic leadership behaviors. In 1996, Behling and McFillen published a syncretical model of charismatic leader behavior, synthesizing much prior research into six charismatic leader behaviors as shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2

Adapted from Behling, 0. & McFillen, J. M. (June 1996) A syncretical model of charismatic/transformational leadership, Group & Organization Management, 21 (2), 163-191 corresponding follower behaviors associated with charismatic leadership are awe, inspiration, and empowerment. Of the three, awe is perhaps the most dramatic and is defined by Behling and McFillen (1996) as &dquo;an unreasoning faith in the abilities of the leader that is often, though not always, accompanied by affection for him or her.&dquo; This quality of awe seems to lead to the unquestioning followership behavior associated with charismatics.
a leader in awe, their zone of acceptance is broadened, to follow the leaders direction in many aspects of their they likely work and nonwork life. Also, personal judgments about the rightness or wrongness of acts are likely to be suspended in favor of those of the



If followers hold

leader (Behling and McFillen,


A well-known model by Conger and Kanungo (1998) looks at leadership as a three stage process which takes the organization from the status quo to some desired change. The three stages can be briefly differentiated as follows. Stage One consists of an analysis of the status quo and a realization that it is not ideal. Stage Two consists of the formulation and articulation of change goals. Stage Three is the time period during which the new goals are met. According to this model, the behavior of charismatic leaders varies according to the stage of change facing the organization. Figure 3 ilfustrates typical behaviors associated with each stage according to the Conger and Kanungo model. We now turn our attention to situational rather than leader or follower based characteristics. Robert House (1992), one of the originators of charismatic leadership theory, - posits that there are at least four conditions positively correlated with the likelihood or appropriateness of ~ the emergence of charismatic leadership. Figure 4 lists these situational factors.

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Figure 3

Source: Adapted from Conger, J. A. & Kanungo, R. (1998). Charismatic Leadership in Organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Figure 4

Adapted from House, R. J. (1992). Charismatic leadership in service-producing organizations. Intemational Joumal of Service Industry Management, 3 (2), 5-16.
Source: to say that charismatic leadership may be successful in nonexceptional circumstances especially when organizational members are disillusioned with the status-quo. There is much agreement, however, that organizational crisis begets an environment ripe for charismatic leadership.

House goes

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....circumstances connected with crisis situations or major changes. These situations are characterized by a high level of anxiety and uncertainty, intensifying processes of attribution, projection and transference and creating a strong psychological need or images of charismatic leaders. (Popper & Zakkai, 1994, p. 7) To



popular thinking about charisma,





Survey on Charismatic Leaders

In the

of 1998,. a survey was designed to assess popular opinion regarding charismatics. The main purpose was to ask faculty and graduate students at two institutions to indicate whether 23 well-known personalities had charisma or not. A &dquo;no opinion&dquo; option was offered for cases, where the respondent didnt know enough about the person to decide. In all, there were five groups of respondents. The first group consisted of 15 business school faculty members. Next, a group of 25 Nova Southeastern University DBA students from all over the country were surveyed. It should be noted that these doctoral students are all full-time, working professionals; many of them are already middle or upper level managers. The third group consisted of 23 traditional, full-time MBA students who attended NSU on the main campus in Ft. Lauderdale while the fourth group were 29 weekend MBA students who like the DBA group were full-time, working professionals. The final group came from a Florida Institute of Technology off-campus site on a military base in Maryland. These students too were full time working professionals, most in mid and upper level management. They are pursuing masters degrees in management that range from. a professional MBA to a Masters in Systems

Management. Figure 5 shows the percentages of respondents who felt each person had charisma. The names are listed in order of the aggregate results, thus Lee lacocca was found to be charismatic by 75% of the 111 respondents while Mike Tyson came in last with only a 13% positive response rate.
Several surprising results can be seen in Figure 5. First, the overall positive responses were lower than expected. The personalities chosen were all highprofile figures in politics, the military, the corporate world, religion, sports, and entertainment. Yet only about half were found to be charismatic by the majority of the respondents. Imagine, for example, Ross Perots surprise at being found to be charismatic by nnly 43% of the respondents! of the people believed by the authors to be most charismatic were found charismatic only by minorities of the respondents. Steve Jobs, for example, is often cited in the literature as a charismatic leader, yet only 29% of overall respondents agreed. Notably, however, 53% of faculty members thought Jobs was charismatic. Likewise, only 21 % rated Southwest Airlines CEO, Herb



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Figure 5 Percentages Respondents Saying These People are Charismatic

of Survey

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Kelleher, as charismatic yet Forfune (Stewart, 1998; Labich, 1994) and others long sung his praises as a wild and crazy, charisma-loaded executive. Interestingly in the case of Kelleher, 71 % of respondents said they didnt know enough about him to have an opinion. An even bigger surprise, however, was the low score of Tom Peters (26% overall) although 67% of faculty, more familiar with this management guru, rated him as charismatic. Like Kelleher, the majority of respondents didnt know enough about Peters to have an opinion.

Next, the three areas of controversy are examined. First, the question is posed, are charismatic leaders always a good thing?

Is Charismatic

Leadership Always



_ .


literally history has proven that the answer is no. One need only recall the Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world, or more recently religious zealots such
David Koresh in Waco, or James Jones in Jonestown, to realize the potentially negative powers of charisma. Renowned for the manner in which these shadowy figures influenced people into following their personal visions, these leaders pursued a path that eventually led to the deaths of their followers. The unethical use of charisma will be examined later in this article. The question as posited here, however, is a serious attempt to ascertain whether charismatic leadership as a style is appropriate for leading world-class companies. To those familiar with management theory trends of the past three decades the answer should come as little surprise, &dquo;It all depends.&dquo;
The survey introduced above asked respondents to reply &dquo;true&dquo; or &dquo;false&dquo; to a statement that read, &dquo;Charismatic leadership is always a good thing,&dquo; only 33% of the respondents answered &dquo;true.&dquo; Answers varied widely by group, however, with the faculty group disagreeing that charismatic leadership is always a good thing by an overwhelming 92% while the majority of traditional MBA students (57%) who are younger and less experienced than the other student groups, thought that charismatic leadership was always a good thing. Rather than categorize a leaders charisma, or. lack thereof, as intrinsically &dquo;good&dquo; or &dquo;bad&dquo; this leadership construct might better be viewed in light of an organizations environmental requirements. Charismatic leadership is quite situationally driven. It can be more or less appropriate depending on an organizations environmental horizon. For example, take the propensity of a charismatic leader to be a high risk taker. Companies that face little competition,&dquo; have a stable client base and find no need to adopt new technologies may stand to lose more than they could gain by radically modifying corporate objectives. There is always the potential that new visions being chased are wrong and will result in an erosion of the customer base and ultimate organizational disaster. On the other hand, when faced with growing competition, little if any customer loyalty, and the need to rapidly adopt new technologies, the adoption of a higher tolerance for organizational risk may be a requisite for continued corporate

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Steve Jobs is a good example of a charismatic leader who inspired wild enthusiasm among his employees when Apple Computer was a relatively young company and breakthrough technology was the cornerstone of the industry. Jobs dressed like a maverick, worked like a maniac and inspired everyone with his drive and determination. Years later, this same charismatic &dquo;wildness&dquo; impeded Apple from stabilizing as a mature company and Jobs left the organization. The fact that he is now back at Apple and causing much excitement with the new iMac underlines the situational nature of charisma.

According to House (1992), charisma matters most in startups, turnarounds, or whenever a business (or team) is going through rapid, unpredictable change. He
believes that when conditions are uncertain, charismatic bosses spur subordinates to work above and beyond the call of duty. Charismatic leaders can be classified as corporate heroes capable of performing miracles. They are often responsible for orchestrating corporate turnarounds, launching new enterprises, inspiring organizational renewal, and influencing individuals to achieve maximum performance levels.

good example of such a charismatic. Largely credited with saving Chrysler Corporation from bankruptcy, lacocca epitomizes the charismatic in time of crisis. They do not fear making a quick decision. They use these and other leadership qualities to organize, control, and motivate workers to new levels of success. Like Jobs, however, lacoccas effectiveness was highly situational and the new Chrysler quickly moved on upon his departure. Clearly, when mated with the proper organizational setting, these corporate charismatic leaders are masters at creating levels of excitement and inspiration more than sufficient to promote organizational change and prosperity. One need only reflect on Sam Waltons famous hula on Wall Street or Herb Kellehers dressing up as Elvis to understand the passionate loyalty that fires the

Lee lacocca is

followers of charismatic leaders.

So, charismatic leadership when coupled with dedication to corporate objectives

combination. Its effectiveness is sometimes short-term especially when the leader is responsible for getting the organization out of crisis. It is a style that works well long-term when and if the leader is dedicated to building the long-term viability of the company instead of just feeding his or her own ego. Clearly, Walton and Kelleher are examples of charismatics who focused entirely on building their respective companies into strong, visionary organizations. In Waltons case, Walmart seems&dquo;to be passing the critical testcan it remain world-class and distinctive with the passing of Sam? In the case of Southwest Airlines, many now wonder wheat will happen when Herb Kelleher retires. Will Southwest retain its esprit de corps and fun-loving spirit that delights its customers? A common issue with charismatic CEOs is to what degree is the corporate culture dependent on the leader, and what will happen when he or she is gone?




The point to be made here, however, is to realize that charismatic leadership is not a necessity for todays visionary company. Charismatic leaders make

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exciting, but in actuality most American CEOs register low on the charisma meter. Many of them are extraordinary nonetheless. Collins and Porras (1995), for example, found through extensive research that:


....creating and building a visionary company absolutely does not require either a great idea or a great and charismatic leader. In fact, we found evidence that great ideas brought forth by charismatic leaders might be
negatively correlated with building a visionary company, (p. 81)
As an example, Collins and Porras cite Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard who in the beginning only knew that they wanted to go into business together in the general field of electronic engineering. They had no defining vision, no great idea, and their early years were characterized by trying any idea they could to pay the bills. Likewise they cite William McKnight, long time CEO of 3M; Bill Allen, past CEO of Boeing and Masaru lbuka of Sony as modest and unassuming leaders who had major influence on their world-class companies but not a trace of charismatic personality characteristics.
and in answer to the question, &dquo;ls charismatic leadership always good,&dquo; we think that it is wonderful and exciting to the extent that the leader. has the long term goals of the organization as his or her primary focus and to the extent that it is not a momentary phenomenon in time of crisis. While at least one important study (Bass, 1996) pointed out that when asked to describe their ideal leader, employers from the U.S. to Sweden to Italy all described the traits of a charismatic, transformational leader, we conclude that charismatic leadership, while exciting, is not a necessity to the success of todays extraordinary companies. This is probably good news for those who aspire to be charismatic leaders but wonder if they have what it takes.


The nature/nurture controversy about charisma examines the charisma be leamed?&dquo;

The Nature/Nurture

question, &dquo;Can

Confroversy Applied to Charisma

The central question then becomes are people bom with this gift of power to influence others, and the overwhelming good fortune to achieve their most cherished goals by the very force of their personalities? Or, are these qualities available to all truly motivated to attain them? There is an ongoing debate concerning this nature versus nurture view of charisma. Many believe that people are bom with this gift. That was surely the interpretation of the early Christian belief that charisma was a gift from God. Others postulate that charisma can be developed: Stilt others contend that it .is a combination of both, pointing to popular personality theory which cites genetic, developmental, and situational determinants.. Charismatic personality characteristics such as articulateness, assertiveness, and a high degree of self-confidence are widely held to be developed at least through adolescence, so ~why not conclude that charisma can be at least partially a developmental phenomenon? Advocates of

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the latter claim they can help thereby enhance charisma.



improve their interpersonal skills and

In our survey of graduate students and faculty, two questions were asked relevant to the nature/nurture controversy. In answer to the true/false statement, &dquo;Charisma can be learned like other leadership skills,&dquo; 71 % of our population answered &dquo;true.&dquo; The second question took_ a slightly different tact and stated, &dquo;Charisma can be taught to other pedple.&dquo; Only 60% of respondents agreed with this statement leading us to conclude that the rest felt charisma could be self-taught only and not taught to others. Cleariy, there is quite a bit of disagreement on the notion that charisma can be leamed, but a clear majority reported positive opinions on the questions. Should we all sign up for charisma training and thereby enhance our ability to be effective leaders? One researcher suggests proceeding cautiously. Acquiring charisma isnt easy, and a lot of leaders shouldnt even bother. Who hasnt cringed at the sight of an awkward guy trying to be a live wire? Or remember Richard Nixon schmoozing with Elvis? Still, there are aspects of charisma that are very useful-and easily attainable.&dquo; (Sellers, 1996, p. 40)
On the other hand, Cohen (1992) cites research that proves &dquo;that not only is what constitutes charisma measurable, but that you can acquire charisma if you have the desire to do so.&dquo; (p. 38) He mentions evidence that John F. Kennedy deliberately decided to leam how to be charismatic after visiting Hollywood stars when he was an adolescent..

doubt, leaming how to be charismatic has become a subject of popular self-help books. In the past 5 years alone, the following titles have been readily available to those seeking to jumpstart their own personalities: (1) Personal Magnetism: Discover Your Own Charisma and Learn to Charm, Inspire, and Influence Others, by Andrew Dubrin (Amacom, 1997), (2) Going Public: A Practical Guide to Developing Personal Charisma, by Hal Milton (Health Communications, 1995), (3) The Charisma Factor: How to Develop Your Natural Leadership Ability by Robert J. Richardson and S. Katharine Thayer (Prentice Hall Trade, 1993), and (4) Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism That Leads to Success, by Anthony and Tony Alessandra (Wamer Books, 1998). Typical of the genre, Alesandras book gives step-by-step instructions and exercises for the reader to use in developing personal charisma. Dubrin (1997), a respected and prolific management author, wams that charisma is no substitute for skill or hard work and counsels readers how to develop their personal magnetism. He talks about the speech patterns of charismatics, .encourages readers to be more emotionally expressive, teaches how to use neurolinguistic programming, and promotes the

of humor.

passion to teach charisma a phenomenon of the 90s. In 1987, Riggio published a book entitled, The Charisma Quotient ( Dodd, Mead & Company)
Nor is this

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provided a charisma test instrument for readers which measure six dimensions Riggio feels are connected to charisma. These dimensions include: emotional expressivity; emotional sensitivity, emotional control, social expressiviity, social sensitivity, and social control. After self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, Riggio provides the reader with exercises to strengthen the problem areas. Even earlier, Grad (1986) published a book entitled Charisma: How to Get That Special Magic.

The techniques used to teach charisma vary widely and concentrate on different characteristics of the charismatic personality. One example comes from James Humes, a professional speech writer and author of -The Language of Leadership (1991) (Melbourne: The Business Library) Humes recommends five guidelines to sound like a leader: (1) begin strongly, (2) concentrate on one theme and make your focus clear, (3) keep your language simple, (4) draw a word picture in the listeners mind, and (5) conclude with emotion. (Humes as cited in Hogan,

In sum, in answer to the question, &dquo;Is charisma a product of nature or nurture?&dquo; the question is still open. Clearly, many feel that charisma can be learned and taught. The number of books on the subject alone indicate that many people feel this is a worthwhile skill to acquire. Logically, we can guess that people who already are considered to be charismatic are not the ones who are buying the books. The authors feel as qualified as the next person to state an opinion on this subject. We feel that charisma is very much a personality construct and as such it is not easy to acquire in a meaningful way after reaching adulthood. Serious students, however, can probably move themselves forward on the charisma scale. Charismatics themselves can also through study probably harness the potential of their strength and become more effective.

The Ethics of Charisma

an extreme example like the Jonestown mass suicide, it is easy to see that ethical questions taint the concept of charismatic leadership. One questionable technique sometimes used by charismatics, for example, is deception. In the military leadership environment Cohen (1992, p. 39) points out that &dquo;Many effective leaders use deception as an influencing strategy in leading.&dquo; He describes how, during the battle of Fort Donnelson, General Grant upon seeing his right flank near collapse under a Confederate attack, rallied his troops with the cry &dquo;Come on boys and fill your cartridge boxes quick. The enemy is trying to get away on the right, and must not be permitted to do so.&dquo; Clearly, Grants deception motivated his troops and saved them from despair; they went on to win.the battle.


But what about charismatic leaders in todays corporations. Most people would probably not think that deception is an acceptable technique when corporate battle lines are drawn. It stands to reason, however, that charismatics vary greatly, as do non-charismatics, in their ethical judgments. According to Howell and Avolio (1992, p. 43),

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&dquo; ...charisma is value neutral it does not distinguish between good or moral and evil or immoral charismatic leadership. This mean the risks involved in charismatic leadership are at least as large as the promises. Charisma can lead to blind fanaticism in the service of megalomaniacs and dangerous values, or to heroic self- sacrifice in the service of a beneficial cause.&dquo; The literature is replete with cases ofcharismatically described leaders causing their followers to feel either browbeaten and defeated, becoming like mindless sheep who follow their leader anywhere. In an effort to understand the ethics of charismatic leadership Howell and Avolio (1992) provide key behavioral indicators of ethical and unethical charismatic leaders. After surveying and interviewing 150 managers in 25 large Canadian corporations, they were able to differentiate key behaviors and characteristics of ethical versus unethical charismatic leadership.

First, ethical charismatic leaders use power to serve others. Unethical charismatics use power authoritatively for personal gain and to serve their own selfish interests. Secondly ethical charismatics create visions which are desired and supported by their followers. Unethical charismatic leaders ignore the wishes of their followers and create visions according to their own personal agenda. Thirdly, ethical leaders engage in meaningful, two-way communication with their followers. Unethical charismatics are one-way communicators who do not seek feedback from others. Fourth, ethical charismatics have a realistic idea of their own strengths and weaknesses,. - In contrast unethical leaders have an egotistical confidence in their own strengths and resist feedback about any possible weaknesses. Fifth, ethicals stimulate followers by supporting creative thinking and encouraging them to question assumptions. Unethicals demand acceptance of their decisions without question. Sixth, ethical charismatics are determined to provide an environment where their followers can be constantly growing in their abilities and ethical .standards. Unethicals are simply not concerned about the needs and aspirations of their followers. Seventh, ethical charismatic leaders possess three primary virtues: courage, a commitment to justice and equity, and integrity. In contrast unethicals follow standards that satisfy their own immediate self-interest.

Conger and Kanungo (1998) find that the primary negative manifestations of charismatic leadership relate to a character flaw in the leader.
Charismatic leaders can be prone to extreme narcissism that leads them to promote highly self-serving and grandiose aims. As a result, the leaders behaviors can become exaggerated, lose touch with reality, or become vehicles for pure personal gain. (p. 211)

Figure 6 contrasts ethical and unethical charismatic leadership in terms of the underlying motives of the leader, the needs of the leader, the influence strategy;and the leaders objectives for the foliowers.

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Figure 6 Charismatic Leadership

Source: Adapted from Conger, J. A. & and Kanungo, R. N. (1998) Charismatic Leadership in Organizations, Thousand Oaks:Sage Publications,

p. 214.
The primary difference between ethical and unethical charisma can be seen in the motive of the leader. The ethical leader wants what is good for the organization and the employees; the unethical leader is purely motivated by selfinterest. The ethical charismatic needs to feel as if he or she is growing and developing while at the same time achieving on behalf of the organization. The unethical counterpart is motivated by personal power and achievement and pursues anything which makes him or her look better and stronger. While ethical charismatics seek to develop their followers through empowerment, unethicals hold power close and strive to control employees. Ethical leaders try to create an environment where the vision is supported passionately by employees, i.e., the vision is internalized, whereas unethical leaders simply emphasize compliance behavior on the part of employees.


The issue of developing independent and committed followers is an important one since charismatics are prone to create dependence among followers. Followers naturally want to identify with the charismatic; it makes them feel important and well-connected to receive attention from this vital person. When that dependence, however, becomes unreasoning and takes the form of blind obedience, we have the Jonestown massacre or the Waco disaster.
This affirmation of self and resulting dependence can either then be exploited by the charismatic leader solely for his or her own personal aims or serve as a vehicle for constructive mentoring for followers own growth. These differing outcomes provide a critical distinction between negative and positive forms of charismatic leadership. (Conger &

Kanungo, 1998, p. 217)

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The survey of faculty and students asked for a &dquo;true&dquo; or &dquo;false&dquo; response to the statement, &dquo;Charismatic leaders may make their followers feel dependent and unable to make individual decisions.&dquo; In the aggregate, only 46% answered, &dquo;true,&dquo; although again there were wide differences among groups. Among faculty, 77% recognized the danger of blind obedience. Conclusion

At the very beginning of this article, charisma was defined as that &dquo;youll know it when you see it&dquo; dynamic personality that is often defined as magnetic and inspirational. Yet, the survey of 111 faculty and graduate students proved surprising-many of the people considered charismatic in the literature were not reported so in this survey. Thus, it seems that charisma, like authority, depends in great measure on the perception of followers. If.followers perceive the leader as being charismatic and inspirational, then that person undoubtedly has charisma vis-a-vis that particular follower. Given the fact that many of the respondents to this survey had no personal knowledge of the 23 &dquo;famous&dquo; personalities shown in Figure 5, they were unable to assess charisma and used the &dquo;1 dont know&dquo; default to avoid an impossible decision, i.e., deciding whether the person was charismatic or not. A cause for concern at the graduate business school level was the fact that 64% didnt know Jack Welch well enough to decide whether he was charismatic or not and that this percentage was 71% for Herb Kelleher, 58% for Tom Peters and even 47% for Steve Jobs. On the other hand, there were a lot of &dquo;no&dquo; votes for people generally held to be charismatic by the literature. Ross Perot was found uncharismatic by 49% of the survey group; other political notables did even worse: Hillary Clinton received 57% &dquo;no&dquo; votes; George Bush, 54%; Barbara Bush, 56%; Al Gore, 67%, Newt Gingrich, 55%-slightly better than O.J. Simpson with 65% &dquo;no&dquo; votes and Mike Tyson with 80% &dquo;no&dquo; votes.

The survey results suggest two further dimensions to the situational determinants of charisma presented in Figure 4. They are (I) personal knowledge of and interaction with leader by followers, and (2) personal belief by follower in what the leader stands for. The survey may suggest that respondents assessed a person as charismatic if they liked the person and what he or she stood for. These two new possible dimensions can be the basis for further research and are certainly far too tentative at this time to be conclusive.
As for the three areas of controversy identified in the introduction to the article, they remain controversial. First, there is no way to conclude that charismatic leadership is always a good thing or that it is always needed in visionary organizations. It seems to be a good thing only when and if conditions are right and the intentions or the leader are in the best interests of the company and the employees. Because of its emotional overtones and its ability to create fierce loyalty, charisma remains a dangerous construct-as capable of working evil as good. Further, evidence has been noted that suggests that charismatic

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leadership, while exciting when it happens, may not be necessary sustained growth and health of excellent companies.

for the

Secondly, the nature/nurture controversy is still an open question Texts and training packages available today state that charisma can be leamed. Common sense suggests that this is no easy task. People with charismatic can learn to harness their energy and become more characteristics probably focused and productive. tt is doubtful, however, whether shy, modest, relatively inarticulate people will ever have the personality of a Herb Kelleher or a Michael

Thirdly, charisma can be used in an ethical manner or an unethical manner depending on the leaders intent and the amount of ego involved. If the leader has a strong need for self-agg rand izement and is narcissistic as well, the resulting behaviors are bound to be manipulative and unethical. If, however, the leader is focused on the positive development of followers and the long term health of the organization, ethical behaviors will result.
In sum, there is much that is uncertain about charismatics. One thing is for sure; if you are being led by a charismatic, your organization is in for an exciting, emotional time. Effective followers will withhold instant allegiance to the charismatic and take a fair look at the persons intentions and actions.


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