Aspects of Charismatic Leadership

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Introduction

The subject of charismatic leadership is broad and contains various aspects. This literature review covers such topics as charismatic authority, charismatic leadership in theory and practice, communication skills of charismatic leaders, leadership by example, and charismatic leadership through empowerment. Each topic is explored through the lens of quantitative academic research; in addition, the last section provides examples of charismatic leaders around the world. Overall, this approach allowed to examine the complex concept of charismatic leadership from several angles and made possible to create its comprehensive depiction.

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Charismatic Authority

Before exploring the subject of charismatic authority, it is necessary to obtain a general understanding of authority as a concept. According to Benoit-Barné and Fox (2017), authority is broadly conceived as a legitimate form of power, which can reinforce the senses of integration, predictability, and order. Therefore, authority differs from the other forms of influence, such as persuasion, coercion, or power, since it must be based on a certain degree of legitimacy. The source of legitimacy can vary between tradition, legal rationality, and charisma (Weber, 1978, as cited in Benoit-Barné & Fox, 2017). Traditional authority stems from a naturally given place within a system, legal-rational authority depends on legitimacy legally assigned to a certain position, and charismatic authority comes from personal attributes. The latter type puts heavy expectations on the leader because they have to constantly prove their worth in order to hold the position of power.

A leader who possesses charismatic authority can influence the followers to agree with policies contradictory to their convictions. An example of such authority can be found in the Philippines, where Rodrigo Duterte, an anti-establishment candidate, managed to win presidential elections and started a harsh “war on drugs” on a national level. Kenny and Holmes (2020) argued that Duterte substituted legal and traditional types of authority with charismatic ones, which led to paradoxical results. Respondents of the survey disagreed with Duterte’s tactics of extra-judicial killing of suspects; however, they expressed staunch support for his campaign against illegal drugs (Kenny & Holmes, 2020). In that regard, the respondents showed the readiness to follow the charismatic leader who offered to solve a salient issue. Moreover, the respondents were favorable to Duterte’s campaign despite his somewhat questionable methods and their fear of becoming victims of the war on drugs (Kenny & Holmes, 2020). The Filipinos were ready to tolerate and even encouraged illiberal policies, thus reinforcing Duterte’s charismatic authority.

However, such a mindset is not limited to the Philippines, nor does it affect only people with illiberal views. According to Kenny and Holmes (2020), populism and charismatic authority tied to it can stem from various policies aimed at protecting “the people”. In the case of Duterte, he appealed to the citizens who felt endangered by the growing illegal drug trade. Another charismatic populist, Donald Trump, came to power by promising a resolution to the problem of illegal immigration (Kenny & Holmes, 2020). In that regard, the charismatic authority might stem from the supporters of the liberal democratic system, who can favor illiberal policies in certain spheres of life.

Charismatic Leadership in Theory and Practice

The theory of charismatic leadership often views it as a special type of interaction between the leader and their followers. More specifically, charismatic leadership makes the followers’ self-esteem contingent on the leader’s mission, strengthens their willingness to make sacrifices for the team, and leads to a strong personal commitment (Shamir & Howell, 2018). In addition, theory defines the circumstances leading to the emergence of charismatic leaders and the organizational context which makes them effective. Research by Shamir and Howell (2018) established conditions favoring the emergence and effectiveness of charismatic leaders. For instance, charismatic leaders are more likely to emerge in unstable organizations and times, especially during the time of changes (Shamir & Howell, 2018). In regard to effectiveness, charismatic leaders tend to perform better when they succeed non-charismatic predecessors (Shamir & Howell, 2018). It is easier for a leader to show their charisma in such conditions due to the clear difference with a non-charismatic leader they replace. Overall, charismatic leaders are more likely to emerge when there is an apparent need for reforms and more likely to succeed when compared to other charismatic predecessors.

In practice, the charismatic leadership style leaves a noticeable trace, both for the leaders and their followers. Vergauwe et al. (2017) evaluated the leaders’ and employees’ perceptions of charismatic leadership in order to verify its impact on productivity. Coworkers ranked the workplace effectiveness of their leaders, and the results confirmed that perceived effectiveness correlated with higher charisma scores, but only to a certain point (Vergauwe et al., 2017). When the charisma score surpassed the 60th percentile, the perceived effectiveness of the leaders from the perspective of their subordinates started to decline (Vergauwe et al., 2017). On the contrary, the more charismatic the leaders were the higher opinion about their effectiveness they had (Vergauwe et al., 2017). Therefore, an over-reliance on charismatic leadership might be harmful to the working atmosphere in the organization.

At some point, the subordinates might start thinking that their leader becomes too distracted by the strategic layer and neglects day-to-day business operations. The positive attributes of charismatic leadership become distorted; self-confidence turns into narcissism, persuasiveness transforms into manipulations, and enthusiasm deteriorates into attention-seeking behaviors (Vergauwe et al., 2017). In that regard, charismatic leadership on a slightly above-average scale tends to provide the best levels of working effectiveness. In a perfect scenario, the leaders should pass personality tests to determine whether their charisma level is optimal. Based on the results, overly charismatic leaders might benefit from improving their operational skills and self-awareness, whereas the leaders with low charisma might focus on boosting their strategic behavior.

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What is Charismatic Leadership: Nature vs. Nurture

The previous sections were based on a more traditional approach to charismatic leadership, in which a leader is considered “charismatic” as long as the followers perceive them like that. Scholarly papers that utilize the traditional approach tend to include quantitative research methods such as surveys or polls. For example, Luu et al. (2019) attempted to determine the impact of charismatic leadership on team creativity in public healthcare organizations. The researchers conducted a survey among the public hospital employees in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, to evaluate their direct managers’ perceived charisma. Kenny and Holmes (2020) surveyed a research sample of Filipino citizens who confirmed that Rodrigo Duterte is perceived as a charismatic leader. In both cases, the researchers identified charismatic leadership from the beholder’s perspective, which is consistent with original Weber’s definition. However, the effect-centric approach is criticized for the lack of explanation why certain elements should be considered “charisma” instead of an arbitrarily composed group of values (Sy et al., 2018). This problem led to attempts to redefine charisma and charismatic leadership into a less subjective concept.

One of these attempts is the Elicit-Channel (EC) model of charismatic leadership that breaks it into clearly separated parts. According to Sy et al. (2018), charismatic relationships consist of five distinctive stages: emotion eliciting, emotion production, emotion channeling, followers’ action, and followers’ action result. As such, charismatic leadership can be perceived as a feedback loop, which can be used to elicit desired emotions and channel them into particular actions (Sy et al., 2018). Therefore, a charismatic leader can theoretically nurture and reproduce charismatic leadership on the lower levels of the organization by eliciting followers’ actions associated with charismatic leadership. This approach supplements the original definition of charismatic authority, which is heavily focused on the natural disposition and extraordinary abilities (Benoit-Barné & Fox, 2017). For example, a top manager can encourage their subordinates to implement more strategic thinking in their work, thus turning them into more capable leaders. A company can organize leadership training for line managers in order to boost their charisma. Overall, turning everyone into a charismatic leader seems impossible; however, almost every person’s leadership skills can be improved to a certain degree if the highest management level pursues such a goal.

Positive Communication Skills of Charismatic Leaders

Regardless of the preferred approach to the definition of charismatic leadership, a charismatic leader has to possess the communication skills necessary for affecting their followers. For instance, Jamal and Abu Bakar (2017) utilized the traditional approach by sending questionnaires to officers of the selected public organizations in Malaysia. One of the questionnaires was specifically aimed at determining the communication skills of charismatic leaders from the employees’ perspective (Jamal & Abu Bakar, 2017). The researchers measured such leaders’ traits as empathy, enthusiasm, and task-oriented communication (Jamal & Abu Bakar, 2017). In the end, high scores in those categories correlated with a more favorable evaluation of the organization’s reputation by the employees (Jamal & Abu Bakar, 2017). Overall, the communication skills of charismatic leaders had a significant positive impact on the perceived reputation of the organization during the crisis.

It is worth mentioning that public-sector employees in Malaysia displayed a different perception of charismatic leaders’ communication skills in comparison to their Western counterparts. For instance, Malaysian respondents considered charismatic such traits as good public speaking, active and powerful language, and orientation on the current task (Jamal & Abu Bakar, 2017). Meanwhile, similar studies in the Western setting revealed the opposite traits of perceived charismatic communication — poised manner of speaking and orientation on the long-term goal (Jamal & Abu Bakar, 2017). Therefore, the definition of charisma and communication skills of a charismatic leader has a distinctive regional flavor.

From the perspective of the previously explored EC model of charismatic leadership, positive communication skills determine whether a leader can elicit desired emotions and channel them into the corresponding action. According to Antonakis (2016), a charismatic leader’s communication might be values-based, symbolic, and emotion-laden (as cited in Sy et al., 2018). The leader chooses one of these types depending on whether they want to justify their mission, revive visceral experience, or appeal to specific emotions. Success becomes evident when the followers respond to emotion eliciting as intended, which opens an opportunity for channeling their emotions into a plan of action. At this point, the leader may specify long-term goals and optimal strategies to achieve them (Sy et al., 2018). Subsequently, the followers proceed with the application of emotions channeled by the charismatic leader to practice.

Finally, it is necessary to notice that a charismatic leader who possesses positive communication skills does not always use them with benevolent intentions. These skills can be utilized to misguide people and sway them for a questionable cause. For example, Adolf Hitler successfully appealed to his followers’ anger and bitterness in order to spur them into action (Sy et al., 2018). Therefore, it is important to separate the masterful usage of positive communication skills by a charismatic leader from the eventual results.

How to Inspire Others to Develop Their Charisma

Inspiring followers into action belongs to one of the most important competencies of the leader. If a leader occupies a position in the higher ranks of the organization or country, they are likely to have subordinates who happen to be the leaders of smaller groups. For example, a CEO leads the whole company, a sales director leads regional sales directors, and this chain usually goes down to sales team managers of local outlets. As a result, a large organization employs a significant number of leaders who should be competent and charismatic in a perfect scenario.

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Therefore, a top-level leader might face the need to inspire others to develop their charisma. This goal can be achieved through several tactics stemming from the existing scholarly evidence. Firstly, a charismatic leader can take advantage of the sense of involvement with the community. According to a survey by Parry et al. (2019), the followers might accommodate charismatic leaders’ requests even when they have negative feelings towards those leaders. Subordinates exhibit such behavior because both the leader and the follower serve the same community (Parry et al., 2019). Therefore, a leader might justify the request to develop others’ charisma by the common good of the organization. In addition, the followers tend to see charismatic leaders as knowledgeable guides who can provide valuable professional insights (Parry et al., 2019). As a result, a suggestion to develop charisma can be presented as a helpful tip from a seasoned colleague, a way of improving workplace experience and relationships with coworkers. In the end, this tactic should result in better compliance with charismatic leader’s advice.

An urge for charisma development among the followers can be viewed as an important change in organizational culture. In this regard, charismatic executive leadership can serve as a driver for increasing the employees’ trust, and consequently, their willingness to participate in leadership training programs. Men et al. (2019) surveyed 439 employees from various industries in the United States and concluded that executive leaders’ envisioning, energizing, and enabling communicative behaviors improved the level of trust towards the organization. Therefore, a charismatic top-level leader can inspire others to develop their charisma by communicating their own personal passion and energy. Genuine and positive emotions from an upper-echelon leader can positively affect employees’ mobilization (Men et al., 2019). This impact can be further translated into a message that stresses the importance of charismatic leadership on all organizational levels. In the end, a leader would be able to send a top-down impulse for charisma development that would stretch from senior to line management of the organization.

Leading Charismatically and Leading by Example

Charismatic leadership can manifest itself in various circumstances and lead to crucial developments in an organization. For instance, an ability to lead charismatically can produce a significant positive impact on management innovation. According to a survey by Chang (2017), both unit charismatic leadership and CEO charismatic leadership were positively related to unit management innovation in Taiwan IT firms. Based on this finding, Chang (2017) suggested that the firms offer charismatic leadership training for their managers to make them trustworthy role models and mentors for the employees. CEO’s role-modeling behavior was identified as a reason behind the positive shifts in intra-organizational cooperation and integration. (Böehm et al., 2015, as cited in Chang, 2017). In addition, charismatic leadership was defined as an instrument of developing top executives and middle managers into the agents of change (Chang, 2017). Overall, in this case, charismatic leadership was perceived as an ability to motivate the subordinates through the leader’s trustworthiness and overcome the employees’ resistance to changes by reducing their fear of innovative actions.

A charismatic leadership style has a significant positive impact on employees’ resilience in front of challenges, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Research by Mangundjaya (2020) evaluated the effect of charismatic leadership — strategic vision, sensitivity to the environment, sensitivity to team members’ needs, personal risk, and unconventional behavior on the resilience of Indonesian state-owned insurance companies. In the end, charismatic leadership appeared to produce a noticeable beneficial influence on psychological climate and organizational behavior (Mangundjaya, 2020). The employees became more mentally resilient, knowing that their leaders were ready to take risks in order to support them (Mangundjaya, 2020). In addition, charismatic leaders were able to create and uphold positive values and beliefs, thus making their subordinates more willing to contribute beyond their standard workload (Mangundjaya, 2020). In the end, charismatic leadership allowed to establish a business environment in which the employees did not mind working hard since they felt mental support and appreciation from their managers.

Empirical evidence suggests that leading by a good example is more effective than using coercive power, introducing formal codes, or stimulating the employees with monetary rewards. Nygaard et al. (2017) surveyed retailers within Ahold, a Dutch grocery retail chain. Most importantly, “iron fist” policies tend to worsen the situation, as employees resort to fraudulent behaviors in order to meet standards and quotas set by the management (Nygaard et al., 2017). Strict formal codes of conduct and even rewards for ethical behavior did not lead to significant improvements in ethical behavior (Nygaard et al., 2017). However, the value-based strategies and presence of role model employees who showed adherence to ethical conduct by personal example resulted in greater attention to ethical behavior (Nygaard et al., 2017). In that regard, charismatic leadership by example underscores the organization’s honesty and truth to its values. As a result, the employees feel that sincerity and become more willing to adjust their behavior in accordance with corporate policies.

Charismatic Leader’s Skills and Different Workplace Personalities

Another aspect of charismatic leadership lies in understanding the skills that a leader must possess to attain power. Most importantly, these skills contribute to the development of certain workplace personalities, which affect behaviors within the organization. Anderson et al. (2020) completed two surveys among the MBA program undergraduates and alumni of several U.S. universities. The research goal lies in evaluating skills necessary to attain the position of power and determining whether disagreeable workplace personality helps one become a leader. The study produced several important insights into charismatic leaders’ skills and the workplace personality of people in positions of power. Firstly, individuals who were sociable, energetic, and assertive during their school years attained higher power in professional life (Anderson et al., 2020). Therefore, charismatic leadership demanded well-developed social skills, assertiveness, and extraversion. These prerequisites led to a better engagement in political, communal, and competent behaviors in the workplace.

Secondly, being disagreeable — arrogant, selfish, and aggressively dominant- did not facilitate participants’ career development. Moreover, this pattern was valid regardless of the participant’s gender, ethnicity, age, degree program, or organizational culture (Anderson et al., 2020). In the end, professionals with disagreeable personalities were unable to achieve higher power because their aggressive dominance was offset by low engagement in communal behaviors. (Anderson et al., 2020). As such, a charismatic leader must possess teamwork skills and actual professional competence in order to attain power. Reliance upon dominance in the workplace is insufficient for achieving the top levels of organizational structures.

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Workplace personalities have a significant influence on the relationships between coworkers. For example, certain personality traits can affect such important matter of modern organizational culture as workplace diversity. Anglim et al. (2019) evaluated the personalities of 731 participants to identify personality traits corresponding to more or less welcoming attitudes towards diversity in the workplace. Overall, higher scores on Honesty-Humility, Extraversion, Openness, and Cognitive Ability scales predicted a more positive disposition towards workplace diversity (Anglim et al., 2019). On the other hand, the traits emphasizing self-interest, competition, merit, market, and prevailing social structures determined lower concerns about contemporary social justice issues (Anglim et al., 2019). In addition, demographics appeared to have a relatively low influence, as female workers showed only slightly less prejudice towards other females, and older adults were less prejudiced towards older employees (Anglim et al., 2019). Given these findings, a charismatic leader must possess highly developed cognitive abilities in order to control subordinates with various workplace personalities. Organizations may also benefit from psychometric assessment of job applicants, especially if they hire individuals in positions related to power and leadership.

Charismatic Leadership Through Empowerment and Mandate

Charismatic leadership puts a significant emphasis on the followers’ empowerment. According to Thoroughgood and Sawyer (2017), charismatic leaders tend to empower their subordinates through trust, support, and teamwork. As a result, these leaders appeal to extroverted followers who enjoy positive stimuli associated with higher empowerment. In addition, charismatic leadership attracts agreeable subordinates, who are cooperative, sympathetic, and tolerant (Thoroughgood & Sawyer, 2017). These attitudes differ from charismatic leadership from other leadership styles, such as ideological and pragmatic, which value traditions and results over the visionary orientation on the future (Thoroughgood & Sawyer, 2017). A survey among the students of the master HR program at the selected U.S. university revealed a general preference for charismatic leadership (Thoroughgood & Sawyer, 2017). Overall, employee empowerment can be perceived as a distinctive feature of charismatic leadership, whereas ideological and pragmatic styles are less concerned with employee empowerment.

From the practical perspective, the impact of psychological empowerment in charismatic or transformational leadership style can be evaluated through quantitative research methods. Minai et al. (2020) surveyed 335 respondents from an Indian IT services organization in order to establish a relationship between dimensions of employee psychological empowerment and perceived aspects of transformational leadership. In the end, charismatic leaders’ inspirational communication and visioning appeared to have a positive and significant relationship with all dimensions of psychological empowerment (Minai et al., 2020). Given the definition of psychological empowerment as a set of motivational cognitions, such as competence, meaningfulness, self-determination, and impact, inspirational communication appears to be a must-have skill of a manager (Minai et al., 2020). As a result, empowerment serves as a vital tactic for creating a highly motivated and committed workforce within the framework of charismatic leadership. Overall, empowered staff members feel more confident and receive an opportunity to improve their professional competence.

Another example of charismatic leadership through employee empowerment comes from Turkey. Gerçek (2018) surveyed psychological contracts of 316 managers from private sector companies and found that transformational, charismatic managers have increased the expectations from the employees. This approach allows them to see and evaluate how encouraging behaviors create opportunities for employee improvement (Gerçek, 2018). In addition, the study determined a low yet positive impact of inspiring charisma on employees’ psychological contracts, while management by exception had a negative impact (Gerçek, 2018). In the end, charismatic leadership through empowerment leads to employees’ personal growth, commitment to the job, and acceptance of the leader’s authority. The charismatic leadership style facilitates trust, teamwork, and mutual support between the leader and their subordinates, thus causing positive changes in the working environment and interpersonal relationships.

Examples of Charismatic Leaders Around the World

Charismatic leaders attain significant power in various spheres of life, primarily — in politics and business. The political dimension of charismatic leadership often includes populist leaders, who utilize their charisma to win electoral support or mobilize their followers. That archetype of a charismatic leader can be observed in the political landscape of different countries around the world. For example, Nai and Martínez i Coma (2019) created a dataset based on the interviews of 1280 experts, who evaluated 152 political figures from the perspectives of personality and political populism. According to the results of expert interviews, 33 mainstream politicians from the selection appeared to have populist, charismatic attitudes (Nai & Martínez i Coma, 2019). Furthermore, the researchers defined charismatic leaders as energetic, extroverted, bold, fearlessly dominant, narcissistic, and psychopathic (Nai & Martínez i Coma, 2019). Leaders of several significant powers of the modern world fit into that category, such as Brazil — Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey — Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russia — Vladimir Putin (Nai & Martínez i Coma, 2019). Overall, charismatic leadership and populism stemming from it remain strong regardless of geographical and political contexts.

In addition, political movements based on charismatic leadership can survive without undergoing any kind of depersonalization, even when the original charismatic leader is dead. Andrews-Lee (2018) conducted a series of face-to-face survey experiments with self-identified adult supporters of Peronism and Chavismo in Argentina and Venezuela. The results showed that new political leaders could revive movements despite the death of their founders, and they do not need consistent programs or well-developed party structures for that purpose (Andrews-Lee, 2018). Establishing own charisma through promising and, ideally, fulfilling bold policies and creating symbolic links with the movement’s founder appeared to have the most significant impact on electoral support (Andrews-Lee, 2018). Over the years, these tactics allowed Peronist and Chavist politicians to retain connection with their follower base and increase their charismatic allure. Moreover, symbolic ties to charismatic legacies produced a powerful effect on citizens’ attachment to the movements (Andrews-Lee, 2018). Therefore, it is more beneficial for a politician to utilize charismatic leadership on certain occasions rather than become a mainstream member of the political elite.

In the business sphere, behavioral dimensions of charismatic leadership seemed to have a significant and positive influence on coordinated teamwork. For instance, Ekmekcioglu et al. (2018) studied the impact of strategic vision, articulation skills, sensitivity to environment, and sensitivity to team members’ needs on teamwork effectiveness. A survey of 113 members among 20 ad hoc project teams in a public institution located in Ankara, Turkey, confirmed the importance of visionary and qualified team leaders (Ekmekcioglu et al., 2018). Overall, in this case, charismatic leaders appeared to be a pivotal element in establishing an effective environment for coordinated teamwork. However, while this study provided empirical evidence supporting charismatic leaders’ positive influence, it is necessary to understand that any examples of charismatic leadership must be backed with research in a particular setting.

Conclusion

Reviewed literature sources provided valuable insights into the theory and practice of charismatic leadership. Examination of various components within the concept of charismatic leadership allowed to determine main theoretical approaches, define its manifestations in organizational settings, and evaluate its possible impacts. In addition, an exploration of existing scholarly sources on the subject allowed to obtain an understanding of quantitative research methods used for studying charismatic leadership in practice. Overall, acknowledgment of the existing body of literature serves as an important basis for future studies in the field of charismatic leadership.

References

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