Charismatic Leadership in Organizations

July 15, 1998

book coverJay A. Conger and Rabindra N. Kanungo (Sage, 1998)

To understand scientifically a phenomenon as elusive as charismatic leadership, three vital steps must be undertaken. First, a conceptual or theoretical framework is needed that can adequately describe the phenomenon and at the same time strip away its surrounding aura of mystery for both management scholars and practitioners. Second, the framework must then be empirically validated through systematic investigation looking at the nature, causes, and consequences of charismatic leadership. Finally, after such validation efforts, the framework can and should be used to explain and predict charismatic leadership in actual observed cases in organizations.

The first two chapters of this book are devoted to the first step. They explore how theory has developed over the past decade and specifically how our own theoretical framework has evolved. They close with a model of charismatic leadership in organizations. Chapter 3 looks at the second step — empirical validation. In this chapter, we examine a series of studies undertaken to test our theory and to develop a measure of charismatic leadership. These investigations confirm the validity of the model and have resulted in a reliable measure of what has heretofore been considered a highly elusive form of leadership. Chapters 4 through 6 are devoted to the third step — the explanation of charismatic leadership as observed in company case studies. Here we illustrate our framework using examples of business leaders as well as expand on our model. Our final two chapters look at the challenges facing the field — the liabilities of charismatic leadership and future areas of research.

Although charismatic leadership is often known for its positive consequences, it has a shadowed side that has been poorly explored. In chapter 7, we begin to address this important gap in our knowledge; and while interest has grown dramatically in the topic, some might say that we have only scratched the surface. Chapter 8, therefore, looks at where future attention must be directed if we are to more fully understand the many dimensions of charismatic leadership. We also include a discussion of the challenges facing leaders in the upcoming century and why charismatic leadership is particularly well suited to address these.

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