“Charisma, that 'you'll know it when you see it' dynamic personality often defined as magnetic and inspirational, has received a lot of attention in the last two decades of leadership research” (Gibson et al 1998, p. 11). Organisations and political parties alike emphasise the importance of charisma in the quest for successful leadership. The significance of charisma in modern literature on organisational development and leadership strategies, however, seems quite ironic, given the fact that defining what exactly constitutes “charisma” remains difficult to grasp. As Gibson et al (1998) noted, the concept of “charisma” falls largely into the realm of jene sais quois – not quite unlike the so-called “X factor”.
For most people, defining “charisma” requires the unreliable and undefinable “gut feel”. How then, could such an empirically challenging factor be considered significant to the political and organisational development of leadership? Can attractiveness – a quality often associated with charisma – truly enhance a person's potential as a leader of many? The question of significance is a necessary one, given the emphasis that organisational psychology and literature devotes to its development as an importance factor in leadership.
As Gibson et al (1998) wrote, the attention of organisational structure and leadership experts remains focused on the power of charisma to influence and lead large groups (p. 11). It is, therefore, quite significant to fully understand the power of charismatic leadership in order to establish its validity as a factor in the realms of organisational structure, culture and politics of change. The current battle between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton may be a good case in point. The issue of overflowing charisma versus a staid personality becomes quite apparent in the quest for presidential candidacy between these two Democrats.
Is Obama, the more magnetic of the two candidates, more capable of leadership than the plain and largely no-frills Clinton? This dilemma – the social premium on attractiveness and charm – is present not only in American politics, but in organisational structures across the globe. Managers, student leaders, business owners – these people are all asked to believe that charismatic leadership is the key to a successful organisation. The key question, therefore, is this: what is Charismatic Leadership, and how does it affect organisational structure, culture and the politics of change?
It is significant to begin by defining what exactly is considered Charismatic Leadership, prior to establishing its effects on corporate, organisational and political structures. With regards to culture, this is taken to mean the culture of a particular organisation, particularly in terms of how the organisation is managed or led. Politics of change, of course, refers to the demand for “transformational” leadership – a concept currently embodied by the campaign strategies of Barack Obama. Can Charismatic Leadership truly lead to more efficient structures and successful organisations? This paper posits that Charismatic Leadership does have significantly positive effects on organisational structure, culture and the politics of change; however, it can become a negative factor due to the development of an unhealthy ego, hero worship, self-interest and other similarly unethical abuses of the ability to influence others.
Indeed, central to the concept of leadership is the ability of a person to influence and determine the actions of many with the interest of the majority in mind. Charismatic leadership, therefore, could be considered a double-edged sword, given the centralisation of attention on the magnetic qualities of the leader as both a member of the organisation and an individual person.
The tendency for abuse is certainly present.