This CQ Dossier describes the qualities of charismatic leaders and how they gain commitment to their vision and the mission of the organization. It draws on the main theories of charismatic leadership to present the key behaviors that distinguish charismatic leaders from non-charismatic leaders. The dossier describes how charismatic leaders use visionary language to gain commitment to their vision and how they tap into follower values in order to arouse emotion. Charismatic leaders are powerful communicators who are able to articulate a vision that is meaningful to their followers.
They are also excellent role models in that they emulate the behaviors that they describe. The dossier provides examples of the linguistic techniques that charismatic leaders use to motivate others. The focus on charismatic language also provides evidence that managers can be trained to be more charismatic in how they lead others within the organization.
Charismatic leaders are the movers and shakers of the world
In the last three decades, there has been an increasing interest in charismatic leadership. Charismatic leaders are the movers and shakers of the world, daring to challenge the status quo and empower their followers to perform beyond normal expectations. Charismatic leaders transform their followers to make personal sacrifices for the sake of the collective and to become involved in the leader’s vision and mission. The majority of studies in the field have demonstrated the positive impact of charismatic leadership on organizational effectiveness.
What is charisma? The foundation of charismatic leadership
Leadership is a soft skill to influence individuals, teams or organizations in a way such that a desirable future status is achieved. When you want to influence others, you must have some sort of authority that makes others follow your suggestions and directions. This applies both to formal leadership and informal leadership.
Charisma is a source of authority
The traditional approach to authority strongly relies on bureaucracy such as formal position in an organization and job titles (Fleming & Spicer, 2014). While this source of authority is still an important part of leadership, it isn’t the best fit in situations of organizational transformations and informal leadership interventions.
In his seminal work "The Theory of Social and Economic Organization" (1966) the sociologist Max Weber introduced another source of authority that differs from bureaucracy and is called “Charismatic Authority”. In contrast to bureaucracy, Charisma is a source of authority that is directly connected to an individual according to Weber (1966, p. 358):
"The term ‘charisma’ will be applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.”
This understanding of charisma is rather vague and has a strong spiritual component that is not easy to measure and implement. Having its roots in religion and Greek mythology (Antonakis, Bastardoz, Jacquart, & Shamir, 2016), this is not astonishing.
How does charisma work?
Drawing on above mentioned definition, charismatic authority strongly relies on the assumption that leaders have an emotional impact on their followers.
Charismatic leadership is a leadership approach related to transformational and visionary leadership
The last thirty years has seen a proliferation in research on charismatic leadership, transformational leadership and visionary leadership with charisma being the most important component of these leadership approaches. Collectively, they are referred to as neo-charismatic leadership because charisma is the main component. This CQ Dossier describes the main dimensions of charisma and describes those qualities that distinguish charismatic leaders from non-charismatic leaders. The dossier supplies recommendations on how best to cultivate a culture where charismatic leadership flourishes and the interventions that can help an organization foster through charisma.
Charismatic leaders have an emotional impact on their followers
Central to these theories is that charismatic leaders have an emotional impact on their followers through their behaviors and personal characteristics. Robert House and Boas Shamir (House & Shamir, 1993) integrated the theories and proposed various dimensions of charismatic leadership. To summarize, charismatic leaders are
arouse followers’ motives,
are excellent role models,
project a positive self-image and
empower their followers.
It is believed that the most important characteristic that distinguishes charismatic from non-charismatic leaders is that charismatic leaders are visionary. Charismatic leaders are able to effectively articulate, facilitate and formulate ideological goals such as honesty, fairness, and craftsmanship.
Charismatic leaders demonstrate optimism, determination, and self-confidence
Charismatic leadership affect motive arousal and active follower need for achievement, affiliation, and power. Charismatic leaders are excellent role models because they set a personal example by displaying those traits and behaviors that are congruent with the vision or mission they espouse. This behavior is amplified by their demonstration of self-confidence, determination, and persistence in facilitating organizational change.
Charismatic leaders challenge the status-quo
Charismatic leaders are able to build a positive image in the eyes of followers that contributes to followers’ perceptions of the leader as competent and trustworthy, and have a lifestyle that is consistent with the values of the vision. Charismatic leaders are able to empower their followers through expressing confidence in their ability to perform at an exceptionally high level. They also demonstrate optimism, determination, and self-confidence. Finally, they also challenge the status-quo and engage in risk-taking and unconventional behavior to demonstrate their commitment to their values and vision.
Charismatic leaders are strong communicators and use powerful language
A notable characteristic of charismatic leaders is their effectiveness in communication. Generally, charismatic leaders use effective linguistic devices to instill their followers with a vision. The use powerful language to evoke a positive emotional response from their followers. The importance of language to charismatic leadership appears crucial when leaders are formulating and articulating their vision of the future.
A charismatic leader evaluates the existing situation or status quo within an organization and assesses the constraints to implement a new vision. Then, the leader formulates and articulates the new goals and finally demonstrates how these goals can be achieved by the organization. The language used by the charismatic leader is essential in the formulation and articulation of new and goals and in gaining follower commitment to the new vision (Conger & Kanungo, 1987).
Charismatic leaders use rhetoric to demonstrate their motivation and enthusiasm for their vision
Successful articulation of the vision springs from a being a credible communicator and this credibility comes from projecting an image of being a likable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable person. Charismatic leaders project this image of likeability through formulating a vision that appeals to followers’ values and use of linguistic strategies to enhance their credibility. Through use of rhetoric, charismatic leaders demonstrate their motivation and enthusiasm for the new vision. Use of clear oral communication enables the leader to effectively explain the vision to others.
Charismatic leadership relies on superior verbal and non-verbal communication skills
Researchers have identified those particular language devices that charismatic leaders use to influence followers and have focused on the delivery and content of the communication (Holliday & Coombs, 1993). In order to be charismatic, leaders can be effective in their delivery through use of eye contact, appropriate gestures, and an animated tone. Delivery is important because it allows the charismatic leader to show enthusiasm and this can arouse other people’s emotions.
Arousing emotion can also increase follower commitment to the vision. Strong delivery can also enhance the message that is conveyed. When a leader has a strong message but delivery is weak this can result in noise and can undermine the value of the powerful speech (Awamleh & Gardner, 1999).
Charismatic leaders ‘frame’ their vision so that it is meaningful
Charismatic leaders also use powerful content in their message to increase emotional appeal. Some of these techniques include the use of framing, metaphors, analogies and biography to arouse follower emotions. The use of powerful content also can engage how followers see themselves through enhancing their self-concept. Charismatic leaders mainly gain their influence through creating a powerful and appealing vision. The most powerful visions are those that focus on shared values and use rhetorical devices such as metaphor, examples, vivid language and rhythmic devices (Holladay & Coombs, 1994).
Jay Conger (1991) describes how powerful linguistic techniques used by leaders can affect perceptions of firm by stakeholders such as investors, consumers, and employees. Charismatic leaders ‘frame’ their vision so that it is meaningful. When Steve Jobs founded Next Computer Company he framed his mission to staff on the values of revolutionizing education:
We want to start a company that has a lot to do with education and, in particular, high education, colleges, and universities. So, our vision is that there’s a revolution in software going on now on college and university campuses. You can’t give a student in biology a five million dollar recombinant DNA laboratory. But you can simulate those lab on a very powerful computer. That’s what we are trying to do. To build Next from the heart
Note how Steve Jobs appeals to staff through focusing on the power of education rather than a focus on profit and loss. This is how charismatic leaders appeal to their followers. Charismatic leaders also use self-efficacious language to build up their followers by telling them not to give up and to believe in themselves. Here is an example:
As you go through the task I really want you to be as creative and imagine as you can….don’t be afraid to take risks. Trust your instincts. I have every confidence that if you draw on your creativity you’ll do extremely well…..
Charismatic leadership is most important in times of crisis and change
Overall, charismatic leaders try to make people feel good about themselves because they believe this will lead to followers performing above and beyond expectations. They are not harsh when people make mistakes yet are consistent in their message of empowerment. Charismatic leaders will also share their own personal stories with their followers particularly those that show they have similar values that connects them.
In conclusion, charismatic leaders focus on speaking about the things that they are passionate about rather than focusing on existing ways in which to conduct business. Charismatic leadership also appears to be most important during a crisis when people need a strong leader to drive change within an organization. However, it is important that charismatic leaders have built foundation of trust in order to gain the support of their followers. The rhetoric is important yet must also be aligned with the behaviors of the charismatic leader in order to be effective. Being a role model for others is a strong component of charismatic leadership.
This CQ Dossier focuses on those behaviors that differentiate charismatic leaders from non-charismatic leaders. The most important quality of charismatic leaders is that they have a vision that is emotionally appealing to followers. There is also research evidence that charisma can be trained (Towler, 2001) when it is viewed as a series of behaviors. Leaders can incorporate visionary statements into their speeches and empower their followers on a daily basis through sharing stories and using self-efficacy to boost followers’ beliefs in themselves.
Charismatic leaders are visionary
Charismatic leaders challenge the status quo
Charismatic leaders empower their followers to perform beyond normal expectations
Charismatic leaders are excellent role models
Charismatic leaders set a personal example that is congruent with their mission
Charismatic leaders use persuasive language to gain commitment to the vision
Managers can be trained to be charismatic through encouraging them to use powerful language that is strong in delivery
Charismatic leaders raise the confidence of their followers through encouraging them to do well and to trust their instincts
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House, R. J., & Shamir, B. (1993). Toward the integration of transformational, charismatic and visionary theories. In Chemers, M. M. & Ayman, R. (Eds). Leadership Theory and Research: Perspetives and Directions. San Diego: Academic Press.
Holladay, S. J., & Coombs, W. T. (1993). Communicating Visions: An exploration of the role of delivery in the creation of leader charisma. Management Communication Quarterly, 6, 4, 405-427.
Towler, A. J. (2003). Effects of charismatic influence training on attitudes, behavior, and performance. Personnel Psychology, 56, 363–381.
Weber, M. (1966). The theory of social and economic organization. New York: Free Press.
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.