The word ‘charisma’ means ‘gift’ or ‘divine favor’, referring to an innate and indescribable charm found in an ‘exclusive few’ that, when wielded, is a source of great power and influence over others.
In the 1940s, renowned German sociologist Max Weber explained charisma as a form of influence independent of tradition and formal authority, based on follower perceptions of the leader’s extraordinary qualities.
While Weber regarded charisma as a ‘divinely inspired’ personality characteristic that predominantly emerge during crisis situations, he endorsed followers contribution in recognizing the person’s charisma, which will elevate the individual to a position of leadership in the community.
The charismatic leader inculcates trust, affection and loyalty among followers, whilst they experience a high sense of involvement and self-worth by aligning with the leader’s value system, ideology and ambitions. By invoking self-vision the leader shares values and work role identities of the group, which evokes a feeling of pride among followers about the meaning and importance of their roles.
Strong charismatic leader
Steven (“Steve”) Paul Jobs, the famous CEO of Apple Inc. — is widely recognized as a ‘strong charismatic leader’ in the technology and entertainment industry. Charisma, a gift given to few people, nature bestowed that on Steve Jobs, along with a spellbinding ability to captivate a crowd.
Born as an orphan, from the age of 17 Steve was constantly reminded - “If you live each day as if it was your last day, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” Since then, he questioned himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” If the answer was “No” for too many days in a row, he knew he needed to change something. He said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Pulling Apple out of crisis
Steve co-founded Apple Computer in his garage with friend Steve Wozniak on April 1976, revolutionizing computing in the 1970s and ‘80s with the ‘Apple II’ and ‘Macintosh’, which, for the first time, made it possible for average people to use computers at home. Steve’s charismatic personality has pulled Apple through crises, periods of change, and even compelled employees to work 90-hour weeks (joyfully) in order to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. Following Apple II, Jobs was acclaimed as the ‘young prince of technology’ and attracted national media attention for his meteoric rise.
Unlike social charisma which often draws on followers’ low self-esteem, business charisma is more vision and goal oriented. Jobs grand imagery at press and product announcements were inspirational and are often used today in experiments to measure the effects of inspiration on participants.
By 1985, despite initial positive reviews, Jobs’ Macintosh was a commercial failure. Jobs’ was finally dismissed as the head of the Macintosh division. His charisma, conviction, and dominating influence also contributed him to be fired from Apple when he adamantly refused to change the course he believed Apple needed to go. Jobs’ dismissal from Apple prompted him to enter one of the most creative periods of his life, mastering the art of producing animated films.
During his tenure at NEXT, Jobs communicated the grand vision for NEXT not in terms of financial performance, but as a mission to “revolutionize the educational system of a nation”. Jobs offered world shaping visions, fulfilling the key charismatic behaviors within a company-changing setup to a world-changing framework.
Steve was invited to rejoin Apple in 1997 and realizing that the company was only months away from insolvency, requested the Board of Directors for a salary of only US$1. Over the next few months, he started from ‘scratch’ and conducted a ‘one man focus group’ of the entire company, deciding which divisions to save and which to close.
Jobs exhibited outstanding leadership qualities and slashed Apple’s product matrix to only four products, arresting financial bleeding and stabilizing the company’s ‘bottom line’. Being rejected by his own company and twelve years in the “Wilderness” has ‘humanized’ Steve. While he retained his edge, energy, and charisma that drove him in his youth, learned to let others step in and lead to help fulfill his vision.
Jobs’ ability to establish and maintain a powerful ‘charismatic’ image with followers was a combination of a salesman’s enthusiasm for the product, an evangelist’s bible-thumping passion, a zealot’s singularity of purpose, and a poor kid’s determination to make his business a success. Steve brought a new leadership style by leveraging a revolutionary vision to create a company with a cult-like following invoking personal and emotional appeals combined with a radical, world changing vision. In the past, he used his charisma and desire for perfection to control people and command their respect. Later on he used his charisma to lead, but has learned to earn respect by allowing others to work with him.
Integration into the system
Although charisma could help organizations and nations to be elevated to higher levels, generally charisma is a largely an unstable force that is likely to fade away fast. Hence it is important that consequences of charismatic leadership outlive the charismatic leader, for long term organizational sustainability.
The level of energy, values and positive consequences of charismatic leadership continuity within an organization well after the leader’s departure depends on to the extent how well those are integrated into the daily routines and practices of the organizations by implementing appropriate policy, legal and regulatory frame works.
Jobs left his company in the best shape of its life, with a top-selling product lineup, an enviable management team and an invincible aura of cool. Jobs’ genius was never in the logistics of running a company; it was the “yeses” and “nos” of knowing which visions to pursue and which to abandon.
He was doing that almost right up to his death. Apple has a strong talent pool of engineers and designers, but Tim Cook’s (present CEO) operational genius will only be able to squeeze out so many efficiencies from the current product lineup. To keep its hot streak going, Apple will have to prove it can still innovate.
(This is the 13th article of the Leadership series. The writer Eng. Gamini Nanda Gunawardana B.Sc. Eng. (Hons.); M.B.A.; C.Eng.; F.I.E. (SL); M.C.S. (SL); M.I.D.P.M. (UK); F.I.A.P. (UK); M.B.C.S. (UK)Management, HR, OD & ICT Consultant, Corporate Trainer, Executive Coach is the Consultant – HRD at Goodhope Asia Holdings Ltd. He can be contacted via E Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org Skype: gamini7147 )