This paper investigated the qualities of great leaders, and examined specifically the characteristics of transformational and charismatic leaders. The analysis discovered that people of all levels within an organization need to be motivated and a great leader provides that foundation.
The study revealed transformational and charismatic leaders have similarities and differences yet both can be exceptionally effective. A discussion on the qualities of great leaders and issues of leadership in general was offered followed by a discourse on transformation and charismatic leadership. An example was offered of a real-world experience of the author to illustrate the leadership styles. Finally, a conclusion was given to highlight and synthesize the main points of the paper.
It is not enough to be a good or even a great manager to be a great leader. A leader must inspire, motivate, and possess key qualities that allow them to rise above the politics of the moment and keep the long-term view for optimal outcomes of their particular venture. The situations of Fortune 500 CEO’s, and those of the leader of a local food bank, may vary in terms of financial statements, stock options, dividends, and clientele. However, what does not differ is the spark of a great leader, those particular qualities that make people want to follow and support the vision of the leader.
While there are many differing ideas of what constitutes leadership, most would agree that regardless of the various theories, what makes a good leader can mean the success or failure of an organization or venture (DuPrin, 2004). Leadership is often the first line of problem-solving in many situations. Schools, government, even social media all “do better” depending upon the expertise of the leaders in charge. Most people want to follow, not lead. However, for those Churchill’s, Patten’s and Kennedy’s that history has given the world, one can sense that without these key leaders and their unique qualities, the world would likely be much different.
Common sense dictates that leadership is not only necessary, it is desirable. People want to know that someone competent is in charge. Yet, what defines competence, and how it is achieved and practiced, is a field of much study. While people demand and desire great leaders, they also tend to have reservations at the same time.
One can see the deleterious effects of following a leader with the right qualities, but the wrong agenda. For example, Hitler was a leader, who abused his power and harmed millions of people. Extreme religious fanatics, while exhibiting leadership and getting people to follow them, also abused their power, subjecting their followers to atrocities (Charles Manson), and even death (Jim Jones and Jonestown). Luckily, great leaders have additional desirable qualities, that being to foster and nurture the safety and well-being of those they intend to lead.
Leadership, therefore, is a relationship, not a thing. It is defined by the willingness of someone deciding to follow another. Indeed, leadership is a concept that happens among people in the leader/follower relationship. Without the consent of the “follower” to follow, there is nothing to lead. A question, then, is what causes a person to follow another person? The answer is found in part in the qualities that define a great leader, those certain characteristics that make and motivate others to follow them and their agenda.
A great leader, in general will possess certain qualities. Key to being successful is the quality of effectiveness. There are eleven noted qualities of what makes an effective manager and four key principles that make an effective leader. The table below summarizes the eleven qualities of an effective manger:
Command of Basic Knowledge
Sensitive to events
Social skills and ability
Balance Learning Habits and Skills
(Pedler, Burgoyne, & Boydell, 1944).
While these elements as noted above are quite important for good management, a good manager does not necessarily make a good leader. (DuPrin, 2004) To be an effective leader, key characteristics are required. When asked, “what is leadership”, people tended to answer in one of the four main categories.
Power: the ability to have people follow your agenda.
Persuasion: the means to motivate.
Vision: a leader provides the vision.
Empowerment: a leader enables and empowers others to do their bidding.
Generally, the conception is that a leader uses power in a non-coercive manner, to will people to engage in cooperative endeavors, in order to pursue the vision that rises above the self-interest of the follower (Bolman & Deal, 1991). While the discussion of basic leadership fundamentals is important, the discussion will now turn to the types of leadership styles, focusing in on what is known as transformation leadership, and charismatic leadership.
Transformation al leadership is a style where leaders not only widen the interest of their followers; they also tend to elevate those interests. This is accomplished through developing awareness of the vision and mission of the organization, and garnering acceptance of those purposes (DuPrin, 2004). In addition, transformational leaders motivate followers to go beyond their platform of self-interest, instead embracing a new paradigm of concern for the good of others. Transformational leaders employ the tools of vision, courage, motivation, charisma, and concern for the follower. Their vision is broad, their interest are those of the group, their mission is long-term and met through inspiring others to follower (Bass, Atwater, & Avolio, 2008).
The following diagram illustrates the dynamics and characteristics of a transformation leader:
Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, John Alban-Metcalfe, Margaret Bradley, Jeevi Mariathasan, & Chiara Samele. (2008).
In short, a transformational leader is positive, has the long-term view in mind, and inspires people.
A charismatic leadership style differs from a transformational leadership style in one very key way: the charismatic leader uses personal characteristics in addition to general perceived characteristics in order to achieve the vision and mission of the organization. In addition to being masterful communicators, they build trust, and motivate people through channeling their own personal energy, excitement, and confidence onto the people they lead (DuPrin, 2004). They possess all the qualities of a transformation a leader, and can lead and inspire through their own devices of personality and charm. The charismatic leader motivates people to follow their agenda through ongoing personal contact, whether through training sessions, web meetings, motivational retreats, and consistent development of vision and goals that are effectively transmitted to their followers.
The following diagram demonstrates the elements of a charismatic leader:
(Ulrich, Zenger, & Smallwood, 1999)
Examples of famous charismatic leaders are Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, Richard Branson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahtama Ghandi, among many others, and not all are positive models.
Leadership implies power. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely; such was the sentiment given by Lord Acton in 1883, in a letter he wrote to a friend. The concept was that leadership implies two main things: power, and the responsibility to use that power. Not all great leaders in history have been able to follow that axiom.
Charismatic leadership, while an area of scholarly study, is also a real life concept. Once again, it should be noted that leadership is not a thing, not an item, it is a relationship based on an implicit relationship between leader and follower. Charisma, or charm, with its attendant energy, zest, irrepressibility, and constant motion, is an addictive quality to follow in a person, especially a person on charge: a leader. A charismatic leader runs the risk of being narcissistic, exploitative, and basically dangerous (Beyer, 1999). Such is the flavor difference between a transformational leader and a charismatic leader: the ability to get people to do what you want them to do based upon the leader’s personal characteristics.
Combining Transformational and Charismatic Leadership Styles
I would like to relate the experience of being a Lead Instructor and Technology Team leader. The background for this position stems from an unguided evolution from interested student, to job-seeker, lead instructor, to team leader. Additionally, the experience was not one that I initially sought. I did not want to be a lead instructor, or lead of anything. It just “happened.” I was in my twenties when I began working in education. My career began as a data control clerk and grew into a teaching position. My work ethic and knowledge spoke for itself and a friendly discourse arose between me and my principle. Eventually, I was offered a position as a Lead Instructor for the computer department which turned into a position as head of the Technology Department. On reflection, I can see that different factors came into play that influenced this course of events. 1) I was a motivated employee; 2) My work was exemplary, 3) I had an intuitive style for dealing with students of varying backgrounds; 4) Students that I taught were inspired and motivated, and said so; 5) Scheduling and project management came naturally to me; 6) I had a sincere desire to teach, and do it well; 7) I was accessible, flexible, and ambitious. While these factors are not exhaustive, they do point to a leadership style that incorporates elements of transformational leaders and charismatic leaders, which to my great surprise I seem to possess. I motivated my students; they believed in themselves and hence produced good works.
The outcome of this evolution has shaped my life forever. Not only did it lead to a lead role in the Technology department, it has prepared me for higher level positions that will be sought in the future after earning a higher degree in education. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to develop leadership skills and intend to search for ways to motivate people, manage projects, and produce good outcomes.
Leadership is something people need, and even subjectively desire. It connotes an implicit contract between the leader, and the follower. Without the consent of the follower, there is not leader. Qualities that comprise a good leader are those that the person will employ in the leader/follower relationship, such as being knowledgeable, trustworthy, accessible, and confident, among others. Leadership is inherently a concept of relationship, and leadership styles have evolved to attempt to capture that relationship, based on the setting and demands of the particular situation. Leaders are not machines. They are people and people are uniquely different from each other. Leadership is also a field of study, where styles and characteristics are plugged into matrixes, quantified, qualified, and verified. Such is the nature of leadership. Two styles of leadership are transformational and charismatic leadership. One could reasonably argue that charismatic leadership is the flashy cousin of transformational leadership. Both styles incorporate a method of inspiring others, producing trust, sharing a common vision, and creating success for the organization or venture. Dangers linger in any relationship where one party holds power and the other party gives it. Any student of leadership, must recognize that tripwire, and assiduously avoid it through correctly recognizing the dangers that abuse of the power can bring.