Charisma: A Nicer Way to Lie to Everyone

In the early 1900s, Sociologist Max Weber lectured in the University of Vienna from his papers of Politics as a Vocation. In it, he outlined his personal ideal types for political leadership, something he called the tripartite classification of authority: charismatic, traditional, and legal. Weber defines authority as only being legitimate if those subjected to it effectively recognize it. Within the three classifications, each type of leader must master the necessary avenues of legitimacy in order for their rule to continue.

Drucker was aggressively and unnecessarily condescending to the HR representative. While yes, being a responsible leader is much more than have a charismatic attitude, it is impossible to separate leadership and charisma. While a leader’s type of charisma might not be the “shmoozy” or “smooth-talker” type, one can also be engaging and electric, impossible to ignore. Charisma, as I see it, is the ability to turn people to your cause, however that may be. Furthermore, it’s something that cannot be overlooked and Weber agrees.

As part of his charismatic authority (also known as charismatic domination), Weber states that this is one of the most difficult forms of authority to maintain because all of the leader’s power is entirely dependent on the collective followers’ belief that the leader is simply just powerful. His accomplishments and/or actual power is inconsequential, and it’s entirely built upon the perception of strength. Which is why, in a cult of personality, an active media campaign and propaganda is critical to the continued success of the (often times) dictator.

As Drucker mentioned before, communication is all about perception. If a Kim Jong Il-type figure announces to his nation of followers that they are in fact the most powerful nation in the world, and that is what the audience is expecting to hear, why wouldn’t it be believed?

However, this type of authority is often most dangerous to cult-of-personality figures for two reasons: 1) often, theirs is not a lasting legacy by the very nature of their authority and 2) they are unable to accept the rest of conditions of being a leader.

Because the authority is based on perceived achievements, generally after the death of the figure, the power is immediately disbursed because there is no possible way for the successor (if there is one named) to absorb the same “divinity” of the original leader. This is why traditional authority (sources of authority for a monarchy) and legal rational domination (power given by ownership of legal office) tend to be much more stable when designing a power structure.

I believe that the defining factor of a leader, not just someone who holds the ability to harm or help others, is someone who accepts responsibility. While work and trust are important, I think first acknowledging all success AND FAILURES are due large in part to the execution and design of the leader should be first in foremost. If that were a widely recognized factor, then I think there would be a significant drop in the global volley for a position of authority.

Power is alluring. But responsibility for the safety, health, and success of those whom you lead is often less so. And those qualified to fulfill the role of leader— not those who forcefully take it— dwindle the numbers even further


3 Comments, RSS

  1. renaebouchard February 29, 2016 @ 3:39 am

    I like that you focused more on leaders of political movements in a larger sense than the organization, which helps to put a leadership role into a different perspective. You point out a few different things that I hadn’t thought of when reading the chapter and bring up some interesting points contrasting Webster and Drucker’s views. I agree, charisma is a strong skill to have and can be abused. Very interesting points!

  2. rachelhatem February 29, 2016 @ 7:23 am

    Taylor, like Renae also stated, charisma is a strong skill to have and can be overused/abused. This is entirely true, and there are so many cases where you will find this prevalent. Although I still think that in order to be a good leader, that you need to be somewhat charismatic if you want people to follow/listen to you. I think that’s the basis of good leadership. If people like you to begin with, then they are more apt to listen to what you have to say when you say it. Overall great post!

  3. Meghan Condon March 1, 2016 @ 7:41 am

    Often times, when thinking about power and leadership, my mind comes to Albus Dumbledore, the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. Some may think doing that is silly, but he is one of the most respected fictional man I have had the pleasure to read about. While he was smart, he knew we was not suited for power, he knew that with power comes great responsibility and, given too much, he would not bare it well. A quote that gives great insight to his character is as follows:
    “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well”
    In this quote, Dumbledore confronts Harry’s confliction about leading the Voldemort rebellion. He explains that the best leaders are not those who seek power (like himself or Voldemort) but those take the responsibility for doing the right thing in the moment (like Harry).

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