Charismatic leadership and the phenomenon of the national leader

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

Author: Bogun Olessya , Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

Charismatic leadership theory is the extension of attribution theory. It says that followers make attributions of heroic or extraordinary leadership abilities when they observe certain behaviors. Studies on charismatic leadership have been directed at identifying those behaviors that differentiate charismatic leaders from noncharismatic counterparts. Several authors have attempted to identify personal characteristics of the charismatic leader. Robert House has identified three: extremely high confidence, dominance, and strong convictions in his or her beliefs. Warren Bennis, after studying ninety of the most effective and successful leaders in the United States, found that they had four common competencies:

1. They had a compelling vision or sense of purpose;

2. They could communicate that vision in clear terms that their followers could readily identify with;

3. They demonstrated consistency and focus in the pursuit of their vision;

4. They knew their own strengths and capitalized on them.

The most recent and comprehensive analysis has been completed by Jay Conger and Rabindra Kanungo at McGill University. They propose that charismatic leaders have an idealized goal that they want to achieve and a strong personal commitment to that goal, are perceived as unconventional, are assertive and self-confident, and are perceived as agents of radical change rather than managers of the status quo. They identified the following characteristics of charismatic leaders:

1. Self-confidence. Charismatic leaders have complete confidence in their judgment and ability;

2. Vision. They have an idealized goal that proposes a future better that the status quo. The greater the disparity between this idealized goal and the status quo, the more likely that followers will attribute extraordinary vision to the leader;

3. Ability to articulate the vision. They are able to clarify and state the vision in terms that are understandable to others. This articulation demonstrates an understanding of the followers’ needs and acts as a motivating force;

4. Strong convictions about the vision. Charismatic leaders are perceived as being strongly committed and willing to take on high personal risk, incur high costs and engage in self-sacrifice to achieve their vision;

5. Behavior that is out of the ordinary. They engage in behavior that is perceived as being novel, unconventional, and counter to norms. When successful, these behaviors evoke surprise and admiration in followers;

6. Appearance as a change agent. Charismatic leaders are perceived as agents of radical change rather than as caretakers of the status quo;

7. Environment sensitivity. They are able to make realistic assessments of the environmental constraints and resources needed to bring about change.

Charismatic leaders are those leaders who, by force of their personal abilities, are capable of having a profound and extraordinary effect on followers. There is an increasing body of research that shows impressive correlations between charismatic leadership and high performance and satisfaction among followers. People working for charismatic leaders are motivated to exert extra work effort and because they like their leader, express greater satisfaction. One study found that followers of charismatic leaders were more self-assured, experienced more meaningfulness in their work, reported more support from their leaders, worked longer hours, saw their leaders as more dynamic, and had higher performance ratings than the followers of noncharismatic but effective leaders. Another study found that people working under charismatic leaders were more productive and satisfied than those working under leaders who relied on the more traditional transactional behaviors of initiating structure and consideration. If charisma is desirable, can people learn to be charismatic leaders? Or are charismatic leaders born with their qualities? While a small minority still think that charisma cannot be learned, most experts believe that individuals can be trained to exhibit charismatic behaviors. Table 15.For example, researchers have succeeded in actually scripting undergraduate business students to “play” charismatic. The students were taught to articulate an overarching goal, communicate high performance expectations, exhibit confidence in the ability of subordinates to meet these expectations, and emphasize with the needs of their subordinates; they learned to project a powerful, confident, and dynamic presence; and they practiced using a captivating and engaging voice tone. To further capture the dynamics and energy of charisma, the leaders were trained to evoke charismatic nonverbal characteristics: they alternated between pacing and sitting on the edges of their desks, leaned toward the subordinate, maintained direct eye contact, and had a relaxed posture and animated facial expressions. These researchers found that these students could learn how to project charisma. Moreover, subordinates of these leaders had higher task performance, task adjustment, and adjustment to the leader and to the group than did subordinates who worked under groups led by noncharismatic leaders. There are some ways to define whether you have the potential to be a charismatic leader.

Charismatic leadership may not always be needed to achieve high levels of employee performance. It may be most appropriate when the follower’s task has an ideological component. This may explain why, when charismatic leaders surface, it is more likely to be in politics, religion, or a business firm that is introducing a radically new product or facing a life-threatening crisis. Mahatma Ghandi took India out of the British Empire. Martin Luther King Jr. was unyielding in his desire to bring about social equality through peaceful means. Steve Jobs achieved unwavering loyalty and commitment from the technical staff he oversaw at Apple Computer during the late 1970s and early 1980s by articulating a vision of personal computers which would dramatically change the way people lived. When Jobs recruited John Sculley to head Apple, Scully was hesitant about leaving his job as chief executive of PepsiCo to join the much smaller and much less prestigious computer company. Jobs’ famous remark to Scully turned the tide. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water,” he asked, “or do you want a chance to change the world?”

But charismatic leaders can become a liability to an organization once the crisis and need for dramatic change subsides. Why? Because the charismatic leader’s overwhelming self-confidence often becomes problematic. He or she is unable to listen to others, becomes uncomfortable when challenged by aggressive subordinates and begins to hold an unjustifiable belief in his or her “rightness” on issues.

In 1993, no list of charismatic business leaders would have been complete without the names of John Scully, Jack Welch, and Ted Turner. They personified the contemporary idea of charisma in the corporate world. But are these men authentically charismatic figures or self-created images? Each of these men employs a public relations firm or has public relations specialists on his staff to shape and hone his image. John Scully has promoted the vision of the take-charge executive who came to Apple Computer from PepsiCo and introduced marketing expertise and professional management into a company that had been run by a group of “techies” who wanted to change the world. Jack Welch relishes his reputation for reshaping General Electric by buying and selling dozens of businesses. Ted Turner has worked hard to project his “to hell with tradition” image in the popular press. One view of these men is that they are authentically charismatic leaders whose actions and achievements have caught the fancy of the media. This view assumes that these leaders couldn’t hide their charismatic qualities. It was just a matter of time before they were found out and gained the public’s eye. Another view – certainly a more cynical one – proposes that these men consciously created an image that they wanted to project and then purposely went about doing things that would draw attention to, and confirm, that image. They are not inherently charismatic individuals but rather highly astute manipulators of symbols, circumstances and the media.

Charisma is a Greek word meaning “gift”; the charismatic leader’s unique and powerful gifts are the source of his or her great influence with followers. In fact, followers often view the charismatic leader as one who possesses superhuman or even mystical qualities. Charismatic leaders rely heavily on referent power and charismatic leadership is especially effective in times of uncertainty. Charismatic leadership falls to those who are “chosen” (born with the “gift” of charisma) or who cultivate that gift. Some say charismatic leaders are born, and others say they are taught. Some charismatic leaders rely on humor as a tool for communication. Charismatic leadership carries with it not only great potential for high levels of achievement and performance on the part of followers but also shadowy risks of destructive courses of action that might harm followers or other people. Several researchers have attempted to demystify charismatic leadership and distinguish its two faces. The ugly face of charisma is revealed in the personalized power motivations of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany and David Koresh of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. Both men led their followers into struggle, conflict and death. The brighter face of charisma is revealed in the socialized power motivations of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, while worlds apart in terms of their political beliefs, were actually quite similar in their use of personal charisma to inspire followers and motivate them to pursue the leader’s vision. In each case, followers perceived the leader as imbued with a unique vision for America and unique abilities to lead the country there.

Despite the warm emotions charismatic leaders can evoke, some of them are narcissists who listen only to those who agree with them. Whereas charismatic leaders with socialized power motivation are concerned about the collective well-being of their followers, charismatic leaders with a personalized power motivation are driven by the need for personal gain and glorification. Charismatic leadership styles are associated with several positive outcomes. One study reported that firms headed by more charismatic leaders outperformed other firms, particularly in difficult economic times. Perhaps, even more important, charismatic leaders were able to raise more outside financial support for their firms than noncharismatic leaders, meaning that charisma at the top may translate to greater funding at the bottom.

The phenomenon of the national leadership is closely connected with charisma.

Among the Kazakhstan charismatic leaders we can suggest the personality of the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev. The notion of the national leadership goes back to the post-soviet period. This is a new type of political leadership, which was molded in the political culture and in the system of new independent states of CIS. The notion of a national leader deals with two terms – “leader” and “nation”. In the 20th century these two fundamental notions as “nation” and “personality” made a unit and transformed into one notion “the national leader” or the leader of the nation. Consequently “national leadership” is the capability to propose to the nation the perspective and persuasive course of the country development. The real leader of the nation, who is the head of the state, directs the activity of all the branches of power and other state institutions to provide the national interests, to defend the welfare and development of his nation. The political leader defines the actions and plans for a short-term period; the national leader does the same but for a long-term perspective. In the history of the 20th century there are a lot of examples of national leaders: G. Washington, A. Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, Charles de Gaulle and others. All these great people in the interests of their states made really historical deeds; they raised the level of their countries’ development which contributed to the positive and global changes in the society. These national leaders are different but they have some common features:

1. Initially all of them had to confront very complicated work conditions. As a rule, it was the time of the turning point of the state development (for example, the Great depression in the USA, the consequences of the “cultural revolution” in China).

2. The period of the state formation or independence acquisition (for example, the war for independence in the USA, the anti-colonial resistance in India, fascist occupation in France).

3. Absolute support on the part of the society. The president of the Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was elected president in 1923, and then was reelected in 1927, 1931, 1935; Li Kuan U was the prime minister of Singapore since 1959 till 1990.

4. The national idea of the future development. For example, the strategic plan “Vision 2020” in Malaysia, the industrialization of Singapore and Japan. What is more important here is not only the idea, but the political willpower of the leader for its successful realization.

5. The international recognition. The scale of the activity of all the national leaders deviated from the framework of their country only. Their opinion and active position made a great influence on the international politics.

The theme of national leadership is very close and up-to-date for Kazakhstan. At present a lot of discussions are being held to decide whether the president of the republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev is worth being called the national leader. Without any doubt Nursultan Nazarbaev possesses all the enumerated features of a national leader. The first president headed the country during a very complicated period. The independence of Kazakhstan is closely connected with the name of Nursultan Nazarbaev. Due to the realization of the strategy “Kazakhstan 2030” our country achieved success in the formation of the economically developed state. The leader of Kazakhstan is the author of many global initiatives. Nowadays in our country and with the participation of our country great international Forums are organized, within the frame of such organizations as CIS, OSCE, UNESCO and others. Kazakhstan initiated and arranged three Congresses of the world and traditional religions. The chairmanship of Kazakhstan in OSCE in 2010 and in the Organization “Islamic Conference” in 2011 prove the recognition of Kazakhstan, its real changes, and impressive success of the projects headed by Nursultan Nazarbaev by the international society. Nursultan Nazarbaev is the head of the multinational state. The most significant thing is that the leader of the country is considered a uniting force for all the Kazakhstan society. N.Nazarbaev solved a lot of complex strategic tasks, touching economical, political, social and cultural spheres. In 1990s a new term was introduced and spread all over the country; it is the “Phenomenon of Nazarbaev”. This term symbolized dynamism, the inculcation of the centrism politics, the absence of extremes, the unique combination of pragmatism and high effectiveness.

Thus, despite all the discussions we can’t deny the presence of such term as “the phenomenon of the national leader” in the history of Kazakhstan. Nowadays the content of this phenomenon is broadened. It includes solidity, the success of the implemented reforms, the realization of the national interests, innovations. The basis for this phenomenon is the elaboration of the general course of the country development. All the theses he proclaimed turned into independent theses and priorities of the Kazakhstan society. They became the foundation for the public ideology. It implies the stable development, interethnic consent, and national unity. These are basic values for the Kazakhstan society. Nazarbaev for Kazakhstan is a national leader whose status is indisputable.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

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