Charisma in Leadership LO17469

John P. Dentico (
Thu, 19 Mar 1998 07:43:07 -0800

Replying to LO17454 --

Hello to all,

At Rick's request I am writing this post to explain my comments about
charismatic leadership.

Thank you Rick for the invitation, so here goes.

First, there it is difficult to know where to start. I think it fair to
state the charisma could be called a trait. I wouldn't say it was a
value, but a trait seems to fit the bill. Agreed?

I will consider it a trait then for the purposes of this discussion.

How about a quote?

". . .Leadership personality, leadership style, and leadership traits do
not exist. . . Among the most effective leaders I have encountered and
worked with in half a century, some locked themselves into their office,
and others were ultragregarious.

'Some were autere in their private lives as a hermit in the desert; but
the most effective leaders I have worked with were also good listeners,
but among the most effective leaders I have worked with were also a few
loners who listened only to their own inner voice. The one and only
personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common
was something they did not have: they had little or no "charisma" and
little use for the term or what is signifies."

Both from Peter Drucker, Pages xi and xii, the forward to "The Leaders of
the Future."

The trait theory of leadership was debunked in 1946 by Ralph Stodgill
himself after an extensive amount of research on the concept of traits.
Yet the trait theory of leadership is one we refer to in leadership
studies as the theory that won't go away.

As far as the Bass and Stodgill's Handbook of Leadership is concerned,
Robert Starratt (1993 The Drama of Leadership) noted a glaring omission of
a postmodern sensibility to leadership studies in his work. In reviewing
Stodgill and Bass's Handbook of Leadership Studies, he noted that out of
7500 references listed in that work not one used a postmodern foundation
upon which to base its ideas ( p. 16).

Seems like the book really centers on the industrial era. Yet I think we
could all agree that the industrial era is over. We live in a
postindustrial society, a knowledge based society and it is going to take
new ideas, concepts and organizing strategies for organizations to survive
and thrive. I mean after all, isn't that what creating a learning
organization is all about?

It is my opinion, that what people have to understand is that a learning
organization requires a very different sense of what leadership is. The
foundation of which is not charisma, but trust, safety, openness which
engenders in the particpants commitment. I mean if you want charisma, go
down to your local car dealer and walk on the lot, (meaning no disrespect
for dealers per se) and you will get your fill of charismatic people. The
question is who do you trust?

I am a proponent of something I call collaborative leadership. It is a
term used also by Joe Jaworski, yet I believe we are using the term
differently. I am reading Joe's book right now, and I say that because in
the beginning of his book, Joe says "leadership is more about being than
about doing". Sorry I don't agree. Human development is about being,
Leadership is about what people do together. Leadership is contained in
the relationship. I mean what state of nirvanic transcendental self
realization must be achieved in order to engage issues like, cancer
research, aids research, community policing, failing organizations? Yet
we expect to find leadership there in these contexts, don't we???? These
issues must be engaged and engagement of issues is what life is all about.

Here is a very powerful quote:

"We needed to stop asking ourselves about the meaning of life, and instead
to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life--daily
and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in
right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking
responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the
tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."
Viktor E. Frankl, "Man's Search for Meaning. P.85

In terms of the learning organization, I would state that collaborative
leadership is the power source that drives the learning organization. If
the learning organization is the rocket ship, collaborative leadership is
the rocket fuel. How so? Well think of it, one of the premises of the
learning organization is that people will share knowledge openly and for
the good of the organization. Ok, provided of course they trust each
other. If they don't, do you think some might be guilty of omission? I
mean would they feel that in the future someone might take their knowledge
and use it against them? I mean how do you act when you don't trust
someone? Trust by the way is not an automatic, it has to be developed,
and no matter what anyone says, it is of my opionion that all things
involving people at work, in the home and in community with others turns
on trust. But Trust is not leadership, it is a fundamental value which is
part of the foundation for creating a leadership dynamic.

So what about the leader, what is she or he going to be doing in the new
millenium? Two basic things. Crafting the environment where leadership
can flourish at every level of an organization, so learning can flourish
at every level of the organization, and facilitating the leadership

Leadership is not about the great man, traits, charisma, contingency or
situational theory, or excellence, it is about what people engaged in a
mutual purpose do together.

Aren't you glad you didn't ask me to take on situational leadership? Jim
O'Toole has done a good job with this in his book "Leading Change"

Ok, Rick is that enough for now. [Host's Note: Thanks, John. ...Rick]


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