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Charisma Article

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  • I Academy of Management Executive, 1992 Vol. 6 No. 2

    The ethics of charismaticleadership: submissionor liberation?Jane M. Howell, The University of Western OntarioBruce J. Avolio, State University of New York at Binghamton

    Executive Overview Charismafic business leaders are often heralded as corporate heroes byorchestrating turnarounds, launching new enterprises, engaging inorganizational renewal or change, and obtaining extraordinary performancefrom individuals. The effectiveness of these leaders may be interpreted byexecutives as an unqualified recommendation for such leadership in theirorganizations. However the risks involved in charismatic leadership are at leastas large as the promises. What is missing from current discussions aboutcharisma is consideration of its darker side.

    In this article we focus on a paradox that emerges whenever one discussesleaders such as Robert Campeau. Max DePree. Lee Iacocca. Ross Johnson. RalphLarsen. and Michael Milken: why are some charismatic leaders destructive,while others are beneficial to followers, organizations, and even entire societies?Drawing on the results from an interview study as well as the popularmanagement literature, we describe the qualities and values that differentiateethical and unethical charismatic leaders. We also examine the impact ethicaland unethical charismatic leaders have on followers and how organizations candevelop ethical charismatic leaders.

    Article "Wanted: Corporate Leaders. Must have vision and ability to build corporateculture. Mere managers need not apply."'

    Charismatic leaders are celebrated as the heroes of management. By turningaround ailing corporations, revitalizing aging bureaucracies, or launching newenterprises, these leaders are viewed as the magic elixir to cure organizationalwoes and change the course of organizational events. Charismatic leadersachieve these heroic feats by powerfully communicating a compelling vision of thefuture, passionately believing in their vision, relentlessly promoting their beliefswith boundless energy, propounding creative ideas, and expressing confidence infollowers' abilities to achieve high standards. Charismatic leaders are typicallyviewed as effective leaders: leaders who inspire extraordinary performance infollowers as well as build their trust, faith, and belief in the leader.^ But ischarisma a desirable force for leading an organization? While the virtues ofcharismatic leaders are extolled in the popular management press, and in agrowing number of studies, the potential dark side of these leaders is oftenignored.

    Charismatics can be very effective leaders, yet they may vary in their ethicalstandards. The label charismatic has been applied to very diverse leaders inpolitics (Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Delano Roosevelt), in religiousspheres (Jesus Christ, Jim Jones), in social movement organizations (Mahatma(Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X) and in business (Lee Iacocca, MaryKay Ash, John DeLorean). This list underscores that the term "charisma" is valueneutral: it does not distinguish between good or moral and evil or immoralcharismatic leadership. This means the risks involved in charismatic leadership

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  • Academy of Management Executive

    Charisma can lead toblind fanaticism inthe service ofmegalomaniacs anddangerous values, orto heroic self-sacrificein the service of abeneficial cause.

    Ethical charismaticleaders use power insocially constructiveways to serve others.They are genuinelyconcerned aboutcontributing to thewelfare of followers.

    are at least as large as the promises. Charisma can lead to blind fanaticism in theservice of megalomaniacs and dangerous values, or to heroic self-sacrifice in theservice of a beneficial cause. An awareness of this risk is missing from most ofthe current popular writings on charismatic leadership, which may be interpretedby executives and managers as an unqualified recommendation of suchleadership. In this article, we argue that rather than dismiss charisma on thegrounds of its associated risks, we need to understand the differences betweenethical and unethical charismatic leaders so managers can make informeddecisions about recruiting, selecting, and promoting their future organizationalleaders who will pursue visions that benefit their organizations rather than simplybuilding their own power base at the expense of the organization.

    To understand the ethics of charismatic leadership, we interviewed and surveyedmore than 150 managers in 25 large Canadian organizations.^ Based on thesemanagers' descriptions of their bosses, we identified twenty-five charismaticleaders for in-depth study. Each leader was Interviewed for two hours about his orher philosophy, values, and attitudes towards followers and completed aquestionnaire measuring various personality characteristics and leadershipbehaviors. To determine whether a charismatic leader was ethical or unethical,interview transcripts were content analyzed for the presence of themes related towhether the leader attacked moral abuses, confronted and resolved dilemmas,encouraged pursuits of ideals, cultivated an ethically responsible culture, andfostered and rewarded those with moral integrity.^ We draw on these interviewsand questionnaire responses, as well as popular accounts of well-knowncharismatic leaders, to highlight the key characteristics and behaviors of ethicaland unethical charismatic leaders.

    We first describe the key behaviors and moral standards that differentiate ethicalfrom unethical charismatic leaders. The impact of ethical and unethicalcharismatic leaders on their followers' development is discussed next. Finally, weoutline how managers can nurture ethical charismatic leadership in theirorganizations.

    Charismatic Leaders: Some Uncommon DenominatorsMany charismatic leaders incorporate their followers' hopes, dreams, andaspirations in their vision. These leaders develop creative, critical thinking in theirfollowers, provide opportunities for them to develop, welcome positive andnegative feedback, recognize the contributions of others, share information withfollowers, and have moral standards that emphasize collective interests of thegroup, organization, or society. We call these leaders "ethical charismatics." Othercharismatic leaders are interested in pursuing their own personal vision. Thesecharismatic leaders control and manipulate their followers, promote what is bestfor themselves rather than their organizations, and have moral standards thatpromote self-interests. We call these leaders "unethical charismatics."

    We now examine the marks of ethical and unethical charismatic leaders to seehow those who seek to be leaders might avoid the often attractive traps associatedwith unethical leadership, while cultivating the characteristics of genuinely ethicalleadership. As illustrated in Exhibit 1 and described below, ethical and unethicalcharismatic leaders are distinguished by five key behaviors: exercising power,creating visions, communicating with followers, intellectually stimulating followers,developing followers, and moral standards.

    Exercising PowerExercising power or influence varies among ethical and unethical charismaticleaders. Ethical charismatic leaders use power in socially constructive ways toserve others. They are genuinely concerned about contributing to the welfare offollowers. Leadership that stresses serving rather than dominance, status or

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  • Howell and Avolio

    Unethical Charismatic Leader

    uses power only for personal gain orimpact

    promotes own personal vision

    censures critical or opposing views demands own decisions be accepted

    without question

    one-way communication insensitive to followers' needs

    relies on convenient external moralstandards to satisfy self-interests

    Exhibit 1. Individual Qualities

    Ethical Charismatic Leader

    uses power to serve others

    aligns vision with followers' needs andaspirations

    considers and learns from criticism stimulates followers to think

    independently and to question theleader's view

    open, two-way communication coaches, develops, and supports

    followers; shares recognition with others relies on internal moral standards to

    satisfy organizational and societalinterests

    of Ethical and Unethical Charismatic Leaders

    prestige is reflected in the construction services company Townsend and Bottum,Inc.'s Plan for Continuity:

    "It shall be an organization operating with the highest principles of integrity,service to society and clients, in an environment of trust which will nurture growthand development of employees so that they become stronger, more autonomous,and more serving of their fellow men and women."

    In contrast, unethical charismatics exercise power in dominant and authoritarianways to serve their self-interests, to manipulate others for their own purposes, andto win at all costs. Power is used for personal gain or impact. Exercising power ina dominant and controlling manner was captured in the words of an invitedspeaker at an American Management Association Conference for presidents: "Iwant men that are vicious, grasping, and lusting for power. He who has the goldmakes the rules. "

    Creating the VisionEthical and unethical charismatic leaders differ in how they create and expresstheir vision. Ethical charismatic leaders express goals that are follower driven;their visions are ultimately responsive to the interests and desires of theirfollowers. Followers actively contribute to and develop the vision further so that itis shared. In the words of one of the charismatic leaders we interviewed:

    "My job is to transfer some of the dream so others think it's as neat as I think it'sneat. I use all of the emotional trigger words to get people to buy into the c

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