ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Friday, May 13, 2016

Charismatic Leadership

When you ask people what the most important qualities are for leadership, almost all will list charisma at the top of their list. What is charisma and why is it important?

Max Weber (quoted in Wikipedia) offers that it is the "exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person." I read this and think of Hitler, Jim Jones, and others who lead for evil. So, I don't buy the description as being the whole story.

To me, charismatic leadership is the quality to appear bigger, better wiser, and more compassionate than others - with the drive and energy that compels people to follow.

Whether in politics, war, or corporate governance, the qualities of leadership become important to motive others to get on your team and do what you need and want them to do. Without this quality, one needs to bribe, beg, bully, or pay heavily in order to get the tasks completed.

The Los Angeles Times (March 27, 2016) posted an article called "A dark side of charismatic leaders" (Joyce E.A. Russell) in it they mention that some leaders lead people down a path of self-destruction. And, of course that leads us back to memories of Hitler and Jim Jones among others. So, there is difference between ethical and unethical leaders.

I'd go so far as to suggest that the evil leaders are megalomaniacs and think so highly of themselves, they rarely if ever listen to the advice of others. The better leaders - the good guys if you will - have positive goals and a willingness to communicate with others and listen and learn from others.

Let's apply this to the workplace - and of course make some generalizations.

Evil leaders have personal goals that lead to their own aggrandizement - and often end up destroying the organizations they build. The people they lead ultimately become their victims. Positive charismatic leaders set goals that are for the betterment of the organization as a whole. They encourage ideas from others (no yes men for them) and are delighted at the growth and success of those around them.

Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Andy Grove, John Chambers, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others can be described as charismatic leaders - some more self-serving than others. It is the power of their leadership that led their respective companies to the level of greatness we admire.

But, in some of these organizations (and I'm not going to mention which ones) the preferred style of management is by status and intimidation. People are forced to work exceptionally long hours (even for Silicon Valley) and since they all work at will, if they aren't available 24/7 they run the risk of being fired. It is high salaries and status that keeps them in line.

As I am writing this, I am thinking about the Prison guards and some of the inmates in the series Orange is the New Black.  If you've been watching it - and I've become addicted - you'll remember that the Assistant Warden got so caught up in her own power that she embezzled and denied the prisoners some basic comfort and health care needs. Some of the guards became vicious, controlling bullies because they had the power - and ruled by fear. A few of the inmates fell into this category as well - ruling by intimidation and violence.

In today's workplace, we rarely see this same level of managers who rule by threats of physical violence - although in years past they still existed. Instead, the bully boss controls by performance appraisals, promises of promotions, the better (or worse) projects and of course salary increases and the ultimate threat - firing.

So unfortunately, as much as I wish I could, I can't say that only positive charismatic leaders lead to success. Some of the bad guys do too. Too bad.

Participatory Management
We think of charismatic leadership to be authoritarian in style - but that's not necessarily true. Some of our great charismatic leaders led by what is called Participatory Management. One, if not more of our American Presidents was known for this style of leadership.

In Participatory Management, the leader takes ultimate responsibility for the decisions - it is not a democracy - but the leader encourages all executives, team players, stakeholders, etc., to offer their ideas - to openly disagree with each other - and this type of leader listens and learns and ultimately makes the decision him/herself.

The person of self-esteem is never afraid to learn from others - indeed, delights in having others from whom to learn. This is what ultimately creates an extraordinary leader.

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