Charismatic leaders are people of exceptional qualities who, in the service of reaching lofty and inspiring goals, are willing to take great risks and engage in personal sacrifice for the sake of reaching the collective goal, characteristics that set them apart from ordinary men. Such exceptional power engenders reverence in their followers and this reverence leads to trust and satisfaction, feeding the desire to engage in the tasks necessary to reach the group’s goal. Being a part of such a lofty group creates a sense of collective identity and perceived task performance that creates empowerment for the group who feel the goal will be accomplished and is therefore worth great effort and diligence to achieve.
Leadership can take many forms depending on what makes the leader powerful: position, coercion, expertise, reverence. By the same token, style of leadership will vary dependent on how power is used: the autocratic leader tries to control direction, outcome, and decision making and gives orders that the followers are expected to obey but also takes responsibility for results; the democratic leader promotes the interests of group members and believes in and practices social equality; and the laissez-faire leader lets the group take charge of all decisions and actions. As such, there are different kinds of leaders.
The charismatic leader governs in a democratic style and possesses superior skills and abilities and traits that make him/her a born leader. Their power derives from the follower’s identification with, attraction to, or respect for the powerholder.
Wrote sociologist Max Weber (1925/1968):
`[the charismatic leader is] set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least . . . exceptional powers and qualities . . . [which] are not accessible to the ordinary person but are regarded as of divine or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader’ (Weber,  1968, pp. 358-359).
This paper will discuss the identified group dynamics that characterize the charismatic leader’s success in getting people to follow him/her: reverence; trust; satisfaction; work-group collective identity; perceived group task performance and feelings of empowerment.
The perceived exceptional power of the charismatic leader engenders great admiration and respect that leads the follower to rever the charismatic leader. The leader’s inspirational vision, conveying the sense that his or her mission is extraordinary and involves exemplary acts involving great personal risk and sacrifices reinforces this reverence. In turn, such bravery heightens follower trust and satisfaction with their leader, intensifying the esteem held for the charismatic leader and correspondingly their reverence for him or her.
Trust in the Leader
What makes followers so easily influenced by the charismatic leader? Trust that leaders will guide them in the right direction to successfully reach their goal whatever the odds is a necessary component (Kouzes and Posner, 1987; Yukl, 1989). Without such trust followers would not have the confidence to help the charismatic leader implement the often lofty visions that at times pose enormous challenges. As such, the charismatic leader must work to foster deep levels of follower trust.
Podsakoff et al. (1990) have identified three qualities of a leader that contribute significantly to follower trust. These include:
(1) identifying and articulating a vision;
(2) setting an example for followers that is consistent with the values the leader espouses;
(3) promoting group cooperation and the acceptance of group goals.
Conger et al (2000) propose further qualities. They suggest that charismatic leaders build trust through: a demonstrated concern for follower needs rather than self-interest; risk taking; personal sacrifices; and unconventional expertise. They selflessly focus on the needs of their followers rather than self-interest. They engage in exemplary acts that could involve great personal risk, cost, and energy, including the possibility of financial loss, being fired or demoted, losing status, power, authority, and credibility in order to achieve their shared vision. The greater the potential personal cost or sacrifice for common goals of the charismatic leader, the greater the follower’s trust in the leader. Diligent, relentless workers, they possess exceptional knowledge and unconventional expertise in two ways: by demonstrating the inadequacy of the technology, rules, and regulations of the status quo to achieve; in transcending the existing order through the use of unconventional or countercultural strategies and plans of action (Conger, 1989).
Satisfaction with the leader
In addition to trust in the charismatic leader, followers must also be satisfied with the charismatic leadership. What enhances follower satisfaction? Three qualities appear crucial: leader’s provision of meaningful goals; their exemplary behaviors; and their empowerment approaches. To start, charismatic leaders offer their followers highly meaningful lofty and inspiring visions that promise momentous rewards (Shamir et al., 1993). Think of Martin Luther King and the promise of civil rights or Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the promise of getting the country on their feet again following the great depression. Such leaders bring greatly satisfying meaning into the lives of the average individual and provide them with goals that transcend their own limited existence and enable achievement of supreme rewards they would not otherwise achieve (Burns, 1978). Such reverence and satisfaction in turn increases the leader’s self-esteem, confidence and perseverance creating a positive feedback loop of an evermore inspired charismatic leader and an increasing willingness for followers to implement the dictates of the leader and engage in the necessary tasks to achieve the group’s goals.
Next, follower satisfaction is greatly heightened by the leader’s exemplary acts that involve strong personal risk, even death for leaders such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, and self-sacrifice. Such behavior strengthens the followers’ perception of the leader as someone fully committed to realizing their shared vision and the attendant shared rewards. Further, the leader’s great expertise and innovative insight affirm followers’ perceptions that their personal and material investments in the cause are well worth the effort as there’s a high probability of achieving their goals and reaping the expected rewards.
Next, empowerment strategies used by the charismatic leader enhance the sense of self-efficacy of followers, that is their confidence that their behavior will result in achievement of their goals, and this in turn heightens satisfaction with the leader.
Work-group collective identity
Charismatic leadership transforms the self-interests of followers into collective interests through participation in a larger collective identity (Shamir et al., 1993). By enhancing the strength of collective identities in the self-concepts of followers, charismatic leaders increase the probability that followers will engage in self-sacrificial and cooperative behaviors to advance the groups mission over personal aims (Shamir et al., 1993) – the “heroic motive” among followers. Further, a collective identity places significant psychosocial forces on followers and strengthens their commitment to the group’s values, thus intensifying a commitment to task efforts (Shamir et al., 1993).
Perceived group task performance
Charismatic leaders have expectations of successful group performance and ongoing feelings of task accomplishment that critically impact successful outcomes. Followers in turn perceive themselves as a group entity that possesses the abilities to carry out and accomplish a high level of task efforts (effort-accomplishment expectancies) (Shamir et al., 1993). Without such expectations of success, followers might feel too inadequate or despairing of success and this would lead to either poor task performance or abandonment of such efforts (Conger and Kanungo, 1988). As Bandura (1977) has noted: `The strength of people’s conviction in their own effectiveness is likely to affect whether they would even try to cope with given situations . . . Efficacy expectations determine how much effort people will expend and how long they will persist in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences’ (p. 193-194).” Thus a heightened sense of group task efficacy is a necessary condition to allow charismatic leaders to mobilize followers to face of difficult challenges, to set higher performance goals and have them accepted and to motivate subordinates to persist in efforts in the face of apparent obstacles. When followers do succeed in their goals, they feel a part of a successful, effective, high-performing team and feel great satisfaction with their performance as a group.
Feelings of Empowerment
The success engendered by charismatic leadership empowers followers and transforms their values, beliefs, and attitudes of followers in conjunction with a lofty, idealized vision for the future (Conger and Kanungo, 1988). There is as well theoretical and empirical work on empowerment emphasizing the empowering effect of valued ideals and goals. This includes meaning as an important dimension of empowerment (Thomas and Velthouse, 1994; Spreitzer et al., 1997) as well as the dimension of goal internalization which captures the empowering influence of valued organizational goals.
Further, besides creating the desire to champion a worthy energizing cause, charismatic leaders also empower by providing followers with information about their personal efficacy (Conger and Kanungo, 1988) through various means. These include: expressing confidence in subordinates accompanied by high performance expectations (Conger and Kanungo, Shamir et al., 1993); providing autonomy from bureaucratic constraints (Conger and Kanungo, 1988); and setting inspirational and highly meaningful goals (Conger and Kanungo, 1988).
How might this model of leadership apply to managers? Using the Conger-Kanungo charismatic leadership scale based on this model, Conger and Kanungo (2000) investigated follower effects in 252 managers. The results showed a strong relationship between follower reverence and charismatic leadership. Follower trust and satisfaction were mediated through leader reverence. Followers’ sense of collective identity and perceived group task performance were affected by charismatic leadership and feelings of empowerment mediated through the followers’ sense of collective identity and perceived group task performance.
In conclusion, charismatic leaders are people of exceptional qualities who, in the service of reaching lofty and inspiring goals, are willing to take great risks and engage in personal sacrifice for the sake of reaching the collective goal, characteristics that set them apart from ordinary men. Such exceptional power, at times bordering on the supernatural – Moses leading the Jews through the desert — engenders reverence in their followers and this reverence leads to trust and satisfaction, feeding the desire to engage in the tasks necessary to reach the group’s goal. Being a part of such a lofty group creates a sense of collective identity and perceived task performance that creates empowerment for the group who feel the goal will be accomplished and is therefore worth great effort and diligence to achieve.
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