“I’d rather fight besides you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are Lions!” Achilles declared doubtlessly to his team of handpicked warriors and brother in sword. He then points beyond the shore to the strongholds of Troy and says, “You know what’s there; waiting beyond that beach? IMMORTALITY! Take it! It’s yours.”
Immortality has been the core focus of human existence since the first time early humans conceived the notion of death. Alchemy, Spirituality and Religion are some of the ways humans quench the thirst for immortality and the need to cope with an inevitable oblivion. The early Greeks believed in immortal gods and goddesses that live on Mount Olympus and ruled human existence. Good news was that humans could ascend to the rank of gods by showing feats of courage and leadership which meant completing a series of “labors” (Challenges that were impossible to accomplish for a mere mortal being). Consequently, this notion created a society of individuals born and raised with the hunger to be brave so that one day, they could ascend to the ranks of gods become immortal.
I was in my teens when I first came across Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey. So I read and taught almost all subsequent books of Greek Mythology. Also as a skeptic, agnostic and a scientific thinker I was fascinated by how societies created individuals and individuals created ideas which then changed societies. This cyclic process, in my opinion is the root of evolutionary consciousness. I always wanted to know how can masses follow one individual and conform to one ideology? How would you convince people to believe in your vision? How could you inspire a society to risk everything, even their lives to achieve a goal such as immortality which is beyond the boundaries of logic? Now I finally have an answer. And here it is . . .
Charisma is “a fire” that ignites followers’ energy and commitment, producing results above and beyond the ordinary. It is the form of the influence that transcends logic. It is then a social construct between a leader and a follower (Dyadic Relation) in which the leaders offers a transformative vision (immortality or a change in organizational policy, strategy, or management) that exceeds status quo. A charismatic leader is one who is believed to have divine qualities that can facilitate followers to achieve their ultimate objectives. Followers of a charismatic leader develop a strange sense of trust and bonding with the leader that is hard to find in other leader – follower relationships. This relationship helps followers increase their own sense of worth, self-concept, self-efficacy, and high levels of motivation and energy.
The Dark Side of Charisma
Leadership experts identify two sides of charismatic leadership. A leaders centered, self-glorifying influence that is called Personalized Charismatic Leadership (PCL) and a follower centered, self-transcendent influence that is known as Socialized Charismatic Leadership (SCL). Experts would postulate that PCL is actually a negative aspect of a charismatic leader since 1) it is centered around the leader who sometimes have narcissistic tendencies who tend to achieve goals at any cost, even sacrificing their followers and 2) in contrast to transformational Leaders, who bring about a purposeful change in systems/societies, Personalized Charismatic Leaders are not concerned about changing the society.
In contrast, I argue that this is not true. Even though a Personalized Charismatic Leader can be egocentric he brings about a shift in limitations of possibilities. This breaking of barriers, shift in paradigms, helps individuals and societies in to think different, beyond imagination, and be willing to risk more to achieve more. In Greek Myths, heroes like Achilles, Perseus, Hercules, Jason and others are depicted as, sometimes, least bothered about changing the society. Their main objective was being remembered in history as the greatest worriers who ever lived, as immortals, and as gods.
So are charismatic leaders born (Trait Theory) as the result of superior genetic factors (Nature) or are they made through training (Nurture)? Research shows that although it helps to be born with traits that are perceived charismatic in your society (because characteristic that build charisma are highly contextual), charisma can be developed through extensive training (maybe that is why in the past princes had to find a guru/master and go through sometimes death-defying exercises to be groomed as kings).
Here is how you can build your charisma. Research identifies that all charismatic leaders share a list of common qualities that can be developed.
- Vision: it is the ability to imagine better and different conditions than the accepted status and the way to achieve them. In the case of Greeks, it was “Immortality”. A vision is and essence of charisma. When I think of vision I remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” Speech.
- Superb Communication Skills: it is the leader’s vision formulation and articulation process. Here the leader uses his supreme rhetorical skills like the use of metaphors, analogies and storytelling to visualize vividly the identity of the group and their possible future. In the case of Achilles’s speech in the beginning of this article, “being lions who will achieve immortality”
- Self-Confidence and Moral Conviction: a leader cannot inspire others for greatness if he should doubt his own greatness. Greek heroes, from birth were told they were the sons of Zeus the king of all gods. I believe this power of conviction to be the most important quality in motivating and energizing others.
- Ability to Inspire Trust: in a charismatic leadership the constituents believe strongly in the integrity, honesty and candidness of the leader and that there could be no doubt, the new value system and changed state will be congruent with his articulation. In other words, godly leaders walk the talk by being in the frontlines of the battels and talk the walk by keeping their teams well-informed and in the loop with strategies.
- High–RiskOrientation: no glory was ever achieved without risk. A charismatic leader has the tendency to risk everything, reputation and lives, for the attainment of their goals. This confidence and leading from the frontlines is one of the main reasons a charismatic leader is so inspirational. They go beyond conventional risk/reward relationship which humans are evolutionarily designed to base their decisions on. Charismatic leaders have the ability to minimalized the perceived amount of risk and maximize the perception of the reward.
- High Energy and Action Orientation: a charismatic leader is always on the move. He consistently emphasizes the urgency to realize the ultimate goal. He is the man of action and it is through his nonverbal behavior that he is perceived to have a magnetic personality. They are experts in their craft. As seen in Greek Myths, the heroes are constantly practicing and staying at the top of their craft i.e. war.
- Rational Power Base: an effective charismatic leader has a close relationship with his followers. A good leader should develop a trusting and transparent relationship with his generals.
- Minimum Internal Conflict: a charismatic leader rarely feel discomfort in achieving his goals using any means necessary. They have narcissistic tendencies and have the least internal conflict (guilt). Charismatic leaders are concerned with the big picture so the end mostly justifies the means. In this case of Greek heroes, they are seen several times killing and slaughtering mercilessly even desecrating temples of gods, and challenging societal boundaries with no regret.
- Ability to Empower Others: a charismatic leader knows who fits in what position. He provides opportunities to followers to lead and negotiate on his behalf. This creates an environment of positive emotion and heightened excitement. A true leader empowers his generals to take charge of situations even in his absence (which is now called “delegation” which has its own principles that I will discuss in other articles)
- Self–PromotingPersonality: and of course a charismatic leader is constantly blowing his own horn. He never misses a chance to promote his abilities and his vision. They create an aura of mystery and greatness beyond worldly possibilities. Greek heroes are constantly seen in movies arguing with kings over the fact that they have no respect for them and their government.
Godly Leadership in Organizations
In summary, charismatic leaders are the people who bring system wide change by identifying the gap between the present state and an ideal state of existence. They can challenge the status quo not rationally but on the basis of their perceived divine/superior qualities that is known as “charisma”. Although these qualities can be innate and as the result of superior genetic pool, they can also be developed by A) creating a shared vision, taking into account all the stakeholders and B) Articulate it so powerfully that would keep the fire alive and energize everyone towards the targeted change. Keeping in mind the benefits of effective leaders I am glad to see that organizations now focus on creating their next line of leaders and managers while investing more and more on leadership development programs. These programs, leveraging charisma, train individuals on skills needed to inspire others become the best versions of themselves and in turn increase overall organizational effectiveness.