Prior to the mid-1970s charismatic leadership was studied primarily by historians, political scientists, and sociologists. Of this early research, Max Weber arguably wrote the single most important work. Weber was a sociologist interested primarily in how authority and religious and economic forces affected Societies over time. Weber maintained that societies could be categorized into one of three types of authority systems: traditional, legal–rational, and charismatic.
In the traditional authority system, the traditions or unwritten laws of the society dictate who has authority and how this authority can be used. The transfer of authority in such systems is based on traditions such as passing power to the first-born son of a king after the king dies. Historical examples would include the monarchies of England from the 1400s to 1600s or the dynasties of China from 3000 BC to the 1700s. Some modern examples of the traditional authority system include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, North Korea, Brunei, and Libya. But these examples should not be limited to countries—many of the CEOs in privately held companies or publicly traded companies that are controlled by a majority shareholder are often the children or relatives of the previous CEO. Examples include Ford, Marriott, Anheuser-Busch, Cargill, Marriott Hotels, Amway, and Carlson Companies (owners of T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants and Radisson Hotels).
In the legal–rational authority system a person possesses authority not because of tradition or birthright but because of the laws that govern the position occupied. For example, elected officials and most leaders in nonprofit or publicly traded companies are authorized to take certain actions because of the positions they occupy. The power is in the position itself rather than in the person who occupies the position. Thus Hillary Clinton can take certain actions not because of whom she is or is related to but because of her role as U.S. Secretary of State.
These two authority systems can be contrasted to the charismatic authority system, in which people derive authority because of their exemplary characteristics. Charismatic leaders are thought to possess superhuman qualities or powers of divine origin that set them apart from ordinary mortals. The locus of authority in this system rests with the individual possessing these unusual qualities; it is not derived from birthright or laws. According to Weber, charismatic leaders come from the margins of society and emerge as leaders in times of great social crisis. These leaders focus society both on the problems it faces and on the revolutionary solutions proposed by the leader. Thus charismatic authority systems are usually the result of a revolution against the traditional and legal–rational authority systems. Examples of these revolutions might be the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the ousting of the British in India by Mahatma Gandhi, the success of Martin Luther King Jr. in changing the civil rights laws in the United States, or the economic and social change movements led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Unlike traditional or legal–rational authority systems, charismatic authority systems tend to be short-lived. Charismatic leaders must project an image of success in order for followers to believe they possess superhuman qualities; any failures will cause followers to question the divine qualities of the leader and in turn erode the leader’s authority.
A number of historians, political scientists, and sociologists have commented on various aspects of Weber’s conceptualization of charismatic authority systems. Of all these comments, however, probably the biggest controversy surrounding Weber’s theory concerns the locus of charismatic leadership. Is charisma primarily the result of the situation or social context facing the leader, the leader’s extraordinary qualities, or the strong relationships between charismatic leaders and followers? A number of authors have argued that charismatic movements could not take place unless the society was in a crisis. Along these lines, Friedland, Gerth and Mills, and Kanter have argued that before a leader with extraordinary qualities would be perceived as charismatic, the social situation must be such that followers recognize the relevance of the leader’s qualities. Others have argued that charismatic leadership is primarily a function of the leader’s extraordinary qualities, not the situation. These qualities include having extraordinary powers of vision, the rhetorical skills to communicate this vision, a sense of mission, high self-confidence and intelligence, and setting high expectations for followers. Finally, several authors have argued that the litmus test for charismatic leadership does not depend on the leader’s qualities or the presence of a crisis, but rather on followers’ reactions to their leader. According to this argument, charisma is attributed only to those leaders who can develop particularly strong emotional attachments with followers.
The debate surrounding charismatic leadership shifted dramatically with the publication of James MacGregor Burns’s Leadership. Burns was a prominent political scientist who had spent a career studying leadership in the national political arena. He believed that leadership could take one of two forms. Transactional leadership occurred when leaders and followers were in some type of exchange relationship to get needs met. The exchange could be economic, political, or psychological, and examples might include exchanging money for work, votes for political favors, loyalty for consideration, and so forth. Transactional leadership is common but tends to be transitory in that there may be no enduring purpose to hold parties together once a transaction is made. Burns also noted that while this type of leadership could be quite effective, it did not result in organizational or societal change and instead tended to perpetuate and legitimize the status quo.
The second form of leadership is transformational leadership, which changes the status quo by appealing to followers’ values and their sense of higher purpose. Transformational leaders articulate the problems in the current system and have a compelling vision of what a new society or organization could be. This new vision of society is intimately linked to the values of both the leader and the followers; it represents an ideal that is congruent with their value systems. According to Burns, transformational leadership is ultimately a moral exercise in that it raises the standard of human conduct. This implies that the acid test for transformational leadership might be the answer to the question “Do the changes advocated by the leader advance or hinder` the development of the organization or society?” Transformational leaders are also adept at reframing issues; they point out how the problems or issues facing followers can be resolved if they fulfill the leader’s vision of the future. These leaders also teach followers how to become leaders in their own right and incite them to play active roles in the change movement.
All transformational leaders are charismatic, but not all charismatic leaders are transformational. Transformational leaders are charismatic because they can articulate a compelling vision of the future and form strong emotional attachments with followers. However, this vision and these relationships are aligned with followers’ value systems and help them get their needs met. Charismatic leaders who are not transformational can convey a vision and form strong emotional bonds with followers, but they do so to get their own (that is, the leader’s) needs met. Both charismatic and transformational leaders strive for organizational or societal change; the difference is whether the changes are for the benefit of the leader or the followers. Finally, transformational leaders are always controversial. Charismatic leadership almost inherently raises conflicts over values or definitions of the social good. Controversy also arises because the people with the most to lose in any existing system will put up the most resistance to a transformational change initiative. The emotional levels of those resisting the transformational leadership movement are often just as great as those who embrace it, and this may be the underlying cause for the violent ends to Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Joan of Arc, and Jesus Christ. Burns stated that transformational leadership always involves conflict and change, and transformational leaders must be willing to embrace conflict, focused to perpetuate their cause (see Profiles in Leadership 14.3).
Leadership researchers Gary Yukl, Jerry Hunt, and Jay Conger have all maintained that the publication of Leadership played a key role in renewing interest in the topic of leadership. As a result, research over the past 35 years has explored cross-cultural, gender, succession, leader, follower, situational, and performance issues in charismatic or transformational leadership. From these efforts we now know that charismatic or transformational leadership is both common and rare. It is common because it can occur in almost every social stratum across every culture. For example, a high school student leader in France, a military cadet leader at the U.S. Naval Academy, a Kenyan community leader, an Indonesian hospital leader, or a Russian business executive could all be perceived as charismatic or transformational leaders. But it is also rare because most people in positions of authority are not perceived to be charismatic or transformational leaders. We also know that females such as Sarah Palin, Carly Fiorina, or Oprah Winfrey tend to be perceived as more charismatic than their male counterparts and that transformational leadership results in higher group performance than transactional leadership. Although charismatic or transformational leadership often results in large-scale organizational change and higher organizational performance, there is little evidence that these changes remain permanent in organizational settings after the leader moves on. In addition, some researchers have found that charismatic or transformational leaders did not result in higher organizational performance, but they did earn higher paychecks for themselves. In other words, these leaders were good at garnering attention, hogging credit, and changing their respective organizations, but many of these changes did not result in higher organizational performance.
As a result of this research, we also have three newer theories of charismatic or transformational leadership. Conger and Kanungo used a stage model to differentiate charismatic from noncharismatic leaders. Charismatic leaders begin by thoroughly assessing the current situation and pinpointing problems with the status quo. They then articulate a vision that represents a change from the status quo. This vision represents a challenge and is a motivating force for change for followers. The vision must be articulated in a way that increases dissatisfaction with the status quo and compels followers to take action. In the final stage, leaders build trust in their vision and goals by personal example, risk taking, and their total commitment to the vision. The theory developed by House and his colleagues describes how charismatic leaders achieve higher performance by changing followers’ self-concepts. Charismatic leaders are believed to motivate followers by changing their perceptions of work itself, offering an appealing vision of the future, developing a collective identity among followers, and increasing their confidence in getting the job done. Avolio and Bass’s theory of transformational and transactional leadership is essentially an extension of Burns’s theory. Unlike Burns, who viewed transactional and transformational leadership as the extremes of a single continuum, Avolio and Bass viewed these two concepts as independent leadership dimensions. Thus leaders can be transformational and transactional, transactional but not transformational, and so on. Transformational leaders are believed to achieve stronger results because they heighten followers’ awareness of goals and the means to achieve them, they convince followers to take action for the collective good of the group, and their vision of the future helps followers satisfy higher-order needs. Because Avolio and Bass created a questionnaire to assess a leader’s standing on transactional and transformational leadership, this theory is by far the most thoroughly researched and will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.
PROFILES IN LEADERSHIP 14.1
The comment that best summarized the situation as I moved into the chancellor’s role was when somebody told me that the Department of Education was there not to serve the kids, but to serve the employees.
Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
Prior to becoming the chancellor of the Department of Education in New York City, Joel Klein was the head of the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice during the Clinton administration and played the role of lead prosecutor during the Microsoft antitrust case. Klein received his BA from Columbia University and his law degree from Harvard. After graduating from Harvard, Klein worked as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and then went into private practice and specialized in appellate cases. Immediately prior to the chancellor position, he was the general counsel for Bertelsmann.
Upon getting elected as the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg determined that upgrading the public education system was his number one priority. The department was spending approximately $15 billion a year to educate over 1.1 million students, yet only 48 percent were graduating from high school. Because the department was spending nearly twice as much per pupil than other school districts but achieving much lower graduation rates, Bloomberg determined that giving the department more money would not improve results. Bloomberg needed someone who could change the way education was delivered by the department and asked Joel Klein to be the lead change agent for the department.
Upon assuming the chancellor position, Klein noted that the Department of Education was subdivided into different school districts, with each district having its own school board, administration, teachers, and students. The school districts were run autonomously and had dramatically different educational goals and curriculums. However, internal politics, favoritism, poor district–community relationships, and a lack of results and accountability seemed to permeate all the districts. One of the first things Klein did was to eliminate the school districts and their boards and create one consolidated board for the Department of Education. The next thing Klein did was to create common reading, writing, and math educational standards and curriculum across all 1,400 schools in the department. Needless to say, these changes caused a considerable amount of conflict within the department and became grist for the New York City media. But as dramatic and unpopular as these changes were, they were nothing compared to what Klein did next.
The next major change Klein introduced was to create charter schools. These schools were often located within an existing school, but students had to achieve set educational goals and adhere to strict behavioral standards. Teachers and administrators were freed from many of the rules and regulations governing education but had to achieve specific educational goals. Students, teachers, and administrators were held accountable to these goals and standards and would be dismissed from the charter school if they failed to achieve results. Due to the popularity of the program the department now has over 400 charter schools. This program was even more unpopular than those earlier changes, with much of the resistance coming from the 80,000 members of the United Federation of Teachers. The department had 3,000 teachers whom no one wanted, but because of seniority rules many young and motivated teachers were bumped to make room for older and unmotivated teachers. The charter school system eliminated the seniority system, and the United Federation of Teachers generated a lot of negative publicity to kill the charter school concept. Despite this negative publicity from the teachers’ union, the charter schools have continued to deliver superior results and the public remains firmly behind this approach to education.
What would you do to improve the quality of primary and secondary education in your area? What steps would you need to take? Who would be the key stakeholders? How would you overcome Resistance to Change?
PROFILES IN LEADERSHIP 14.5
Although transformational leaders come from all walks of life, one common characteristic they share is their ability to drive change and get things done. One of the best examples of a transformational leader is Bill Roberts, the vice president of operations for Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc. (WTI). Wheelabrator Technologies runs a fleet of 22 waste-to-energy facilities—power plants that burn trash to create electricity and steam for residential and commercial customers. These plants are environmentally friendly in that only 10 percent of the trash they burn is returned to landfills; they have much lower air pollution emissions than coal-fired plants; and all the metals in the trash are recovered and recycled. As the vice president of operations, Roberts is responsible for the financial, operational, safety, and environmental performance of the fleet. When he took over operations three years ago, Roberts recognized that the fleet was not performing nearly as well as it could. Boiler availability (a measure of operating capacity) was down, safety performance was eroding, and the fleet’s financial performance had substantial room for improvement. At about the same time WTI embraced an aggressive growth strategy and was looking to expand both domestically and internationally. The fleet needed to perform at a much higher level to fund these business development efforts as well as provide the operating, safety, and environmental statistics needed to give WTI a competitive advantage when bidding for new business.
Since taking over Roberts has driven a number of major changes across the fleet. An engaging and dynamic speaker, Roberts painted a compelling picture of the future of WTI and set clear expectations of performance for all his plant managers. He empowered his plant managers to find ways to improve boiler availability, safety, and financial performance and provided training to help them think more like business owners. By constantly reviewing results with the plant managers, Roberts kept challenging and encouraging his staff to find ways to continuously improve performance. He rewarded plant managers who improved plant performance and coached or removed those who could not meet his expectations. By getting plant managers to work together to solve mutual problems, Roberts also broke down the walls that had previously existed between his staff and got them to work together as a high-performing team.
From an operational perspective, the 22 plants are running about 10 percent better than they were when he took over. The fleet now has an impeccable environmental and safety record, and the plant managers have a much stronger understanding of plant financials. Because of these efforts, WTI has achieved world-class operational, safety, and environmental performance and has been able to use these results to expand the business in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China.
Given this description of Bill Roberts, do you think he is more of a charismatic or Level 5 leader? What other information would you need to make this assessment?
Osama bin Laden
PROFILES IN LEADERSHIP 14.3
Osama bin Laden is a member of the prestigious bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia and is the founder of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and was brought up as a devout Sunni Muslim. He attended the Al-Thager Model School in Jeddah, “the school of the elite,” and was exposed to many teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood while growing up. He attended university after his secondary schooling, but it is uncertain what he majored in or whether he obtained a degree. At the age of 17 he married his first wife and reportedly has had up to four wives and fathered anywhere between 12 and 24 children. In person he is said to be soft-spoken, charming, respectful, and polite. He appears to live a life of discipline, simplicity, and self-sacrifice, preferring that his wealth be used to benefit al-Qaeda rather than improve his personal lifestyle.
Bin Laden first engaged in militant activities in the late 1970s, when he moved to Pakistan to help the mujahedeen fight a guerilla war to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. His family connections and wealth helped to fund many of the mujahedeen’s efforts over the next 10 years. Some of his money and arms may have come from the Central Intelligence Agency: the United States also wanted to get the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden offered to protect Saudi Arabia with 12,000 armed men, but his offer was rebuffed by the Saudi royal family. Shortly thereafter bin Laden publicly denounced the presence of coalition troops (“infidels”) on Saudi soil and wanted all U.S. bases on the Arab peninsula to be closed. He eventually left Saudi Arabia to take up residence in Sudan, where he established a new base for mujahedeen operations. The purpose of his African organization was to propagate Islamist philosophy and recruit new members to the cause. In 1996 bin Laden left Sudan and went to Afghanistan to set up a new base of operations, where he forged a close relationship with the leaders of the new Taliban government.
Bin Laden issued fatwas in 1996 and 1998 that stated that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdraw support for Israel and withdraw military forces from Islamic countries. It is believed he was either directly involved with or funded the 1992 bombing of the Gold Mihor Hotel in Aden, Yemen; the massacre of German tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in 1997; the 1998 bombings of two United States embassies in Africa; and the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings on 9/11/2001. He, al-Qaeda, and its splinter movements have been involved with the London subway bombing, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and unrest in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Somalia. Given his ability to evade capture and track record, it is likely the world will see more violence from these groups.
It is clear that bin Laden has a following, and that following has grown into the tens of thousands over the past 20 years. These followers are very devoted; some are so committed that they volunteer to be suicide bombers. A much larger group may not play active roles in al-Qaeda but are clearly sympathetic to its cause. But as strong as these followers’ feelings are about bin Laden, others are just as intent to see him dead or behind bars.
Is Osama bin Laden a charismatic leader or a transformational leader? Would your answer to this question change if you were sympathetic to the al- Qaeda cause?