Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Mystique of Charismatic Leaders

I have always been fascinated by the concept of charismatic leadership.  What is it that makes the charismatic leader almost god-like in the eyes of their followers so that people line up behind them without question? What is the psychological bondage between leader and follower that makes them succeed? What are the attributes of such a leader, how does the social situation give rise to their power, and finally, how does the interaction between the leader and his followers give rise to his power?

Gandhi and Hitler were both charismatic leaders.  They were able to establish a strong connection with their followers based on a personal conviction, bordering on the magical...as if they alone had received the vision directly from some higher power. These men possessed the ability to connect with a large audience of supporters, often by reinforcing and then heightening their existing beliefs. They were brilliant communicators, always certain of their beliefs.

Both leaders rose to power at a time when their followers were in distress and were looking for someone who would identify himself with their problems.  The social situation was becoming increasingly worsened and the leader appeared at a time when people were looking for a savior. The leader represents a radical change in the current situation and his conviction arouses the followers to become part of the change.

It seems to me that charismatic leaders must face a critical turning point at which they must choose between the power and prestige of their position and their belief in their own god-like powers or accept their own mortality and move toward routinization of leadership, thus relinquishing their power over their followers. Those who try to hang on create a type of cult leadership based on authoritarian methods, while those who relinquish the power of leadership lose followers and quickly fall out of favor. They leave themselves open to attack from opponents who seize upon the opportunity to discredit the charismatic leader in order to advance their own cause.

As I begin work on my next novel, I hope to explore this phenomenon in more detail by bringing my main character to the decision point and seeing which direction he chooses.

Coming in 2014 (hopefully!)
The Stone House Legacy by Wanda DeHaven Pyle

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