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Charismatic and Transformational Leadership:

Characteristics, Similarities, and Differences

Felix Oti

Leadership has been defined in many ways by many theorists, and some of
these definitions include: as an attempt to use influence to motivate others
to accomplish a goal; the action of leading a group or a people; the state or
position of being a leader and, a process of social influence in which a person
can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common
task. In the same vein, many behavioral psychologists, management
scientists and researchers have advanced various leadership theories as
suitable for different organizational situations; from the contingency model,
through the path-goal model to the situational leadership theory, many
useful leadership approaches have been advanced. In this essay, we are
going to focus on two of the emerging leadership perspectives charismatic
and transformational forms of leadership.
Charismatic Leadership
Charismatic leadership is described as the ability to influence others based
on supernatural gift and attractive powers (Organizations: Behavior,
Structure, and Processes - Gibson et al). Max Webber (1947), described
charisma as a gift, or certain quality possessed by an individual which sets
him or her apart from ordinary people, and is treated as if endowed with
exceptional qualities or powers. According to Webber, the occurrence of a
social crisis, opportunity to articulate an ideological goal, or a perceived need
for change, will cause the emergence of a leader with exceptional qualities
and a radical vision. This radical vision, ideology, goals, and ideas will attract
a followership with a strong belief and a discernment of the leader as
On his part, Robert House (1977) referred to charismatic leaders as those
who have charismatic effects on their followers to an unusually high degree.
These followers perceive the leaders beliefs as correct, and accept him or
her without questions. They are affectionate towards the leader and are
emotionally involved in the group or organizations mission. A major
controversy still remains as to whether charisma can be attributed to the

leader, the situation, or as a result of interactions between the leader and

the follower

Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders

Charismatic leaders are seen as passionate, driven, and are able to paint a
persuasive vision of the future; they are willing to take personal risks to
achieve their vision, are sensitive to their followers needs, and exhibit
extraordinary behaviors. Charismatic leaders strive to instill in their followers
both commitment to their ideologies and devotion to themselves. They are
said to exhibit such attributes as ability to articulate and inspire, have a
dominating personality, a need for influence, strong conviction in their own
beliefs, self-confidence, high level of energy and enthusiasm, excellent
communication and expressive skills, and ability to draw affection from
followers. They are inclined to engage in behaviors that are designed to
convey an impression of competence to their followers, such as
communicating high expectations about followers while at the same time
expressing confidence in them. Their authority draws from the following
perception and characteristics of their followers: belief in the charismatic
leaders exemplary characteristic, high degree of respect and esteem, high
performance expectations, and deep affection. Some of the well-known
charismatic leaders include Martin Luther king, John F. Kennedy, Ronald
Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Models of Charismatic Leadership
Jay Congers (1987) proposed a four stage model of charismatic leaders; they
1. Stage one continuous assessment of the environment, adapting and
formulating a vision which is solution-oriented and very different from
the status-quo
2. Stage two communication this vision to his followers through
emotional appeals laced with symbolism, passion, and emotion.
3. Stage three working on building trust based on integrity established
by the demonstration of honesty and consistency of action, and
commitment with followers through exhibition of technical expertise.
4. Stage four serving as a role model by demonstrating the means to
achieving the vision
Types of Charismatic Leadership

Two type of charismatic leadership visionary and crisis-based have been

identified by researchers and theorists. The visionary charismatic leader,
focusing on the long-term and using communication skills, is able to link his
followers goals to the organizations long-term goals; especially, where
followers are not satisfied with the current situation. On the other hand, a
crisis-based charismatic leaders impact is felt in an environment where
existing knowledge and resources are inadequate to achieve the goal. The
leader communicates what needs to be done, how to do it, and what the
consequences might be. He or she exhibits a high degree of freedom to act
without bureaucratic constrains. Under crisis situations, followers rally
around leaders who are capable of correcting the situation; this might imply
allowing the use of non-traditional methods to solve problems.
Concerns about Charismatic Leaders
There are questions about how good charismatic leaders are; if they are the
right leaders for an organization, group, or societies. The consequence of a
charismatic leaders impact on society is related to the ultimate motive and
agenda of such leader (Burns, 1978). They can have either immensely
positive or negative effects on their followers, society, and organizations
because of their value system. People like Reverend Jim Jones of the
Jonestown infamy, David Koresh of the Branch Davidian organization,
Chairman Mao of China, and Pol Pot of Cambodia were some of the very
effective charismatic leaders who have left a legacy of death and destruction
around the world through the selfish pursuit of their vision. On the
organizational level, achievements of charismatic leaders have been known
to be more of an illusion than substance; these so-called achievements only
last as long as the leaders presence. Once they leave the organization, the
vision disappears, because they were the sole motivational factor in the
followers drive towards achieving the vision. Much more research work is
needed in this leadership field, because knowledge is still intangible and
equivocal. Finally, most leadership researchers are doubtful that that
charisma can be accurately defined and measured.
Transformational Leadership
The other emerging leadership perspective is transformational leadership.
This style of leadership is defined in many ways, including: as one which
leads to positive change in the followers (; a style
which causes change in individuals and social systems (Wikipedia); a style of
leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision

to guide the change through inspiration, and executes the change with the
commitment of the members of the group ( Finally,
transformational leadership is described as the ability to inspire and motivate
followers to achieve results greater than originally planned for internal
rewards (Gibson, J. L., et. al).
Characteristics of Transformational Leaders
In transformational leadership, the leaders vision provides the follower with
a motivation for self-rewarding hard work. They are change agents; men and
women who believe that good is never good enough and that what works
could be made to work better. Transformational leaders engage with their
followers to focus on higher order essential needs, raise consciousness about
the significance of specific outcomes and new ways in which they could be
achieved (Barnett, McCormick & Conners, 2001). They foster capacity
development and stimulate higher levels of personal commitment from
followers to organizational objectives. They help followers satisfy their
individual human needs, engender trust, admiration, and loyalty among their
followers (Barbuto, 2005). Transformational leaders provide vision and a
sense of mission, communicate high expectations to their followers, and
encourage them to be more innovative. Some of the names associated with
transformational leadership success include Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa,
Frederick De Clarke, Charles R. Walgreen, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, and Anne
Mulcahy of Xerox. On the flip side, charismatic transformational leaders like
Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Joseph Stalin, are associated with some
of the worst atrocities the world ever witnesses.
Researchers and authors in the field of leadership have proposed some
factors that they believe make up transformational leadership (Barbuto,
2005); Hall, Johnson, et al (2002); Gibson, J.L et al 14th edition). They are:
1. Idealized influence charismatic vision and behavior that inspires
others to follow
2. Inspirational motivation the capacity to motivate others to commit
to the vision
3. Intellectual stimulation encouraging innovation and creativity;
arousing and changing followers awareness of problems and their
capacity to solve them.
4. Individualized consideration coaching to the specific needs of
followers to ensure inclusion in the transformation process.
5. Management by exception allowing followers to work on tasks
without interruption, except when absolutely necessary.

6. Contingent rewards informing followers of available rewards and

how best to attain those rewards.
Transformational leaders possess some of the characteristics of charismatic
leaders like ability to articulate their vision, communication skills, ability to
show sensitivity to skills deficiencies of followers, and need assessment
skills. They can play the role of a parent turning a child into a human being;
coach installing in their players the skills to keep trying in spite of setbacks;
an entrepreneur exhibiting transformational leadership to encourage
growth in their businesses; and that of a religious leader with a goal to turn
the flawed into a moral ethical follower. Though all transformational leaders
have charisma, not all charismatic leaders are transformational in their
leadership styles (Pierce & Newstrom et. al).
Guidelines for Transformational Leadership
Researchers and management scientists have identified some general
guidelines for transformational Leadership; they include:

Articulating a clear and appealing vision

Explaining how the vision can be attained
Acting confident and optimistic in the face of every situation
Expressing confidence in your followers through appreciative remarks
and rewards
5. Providing opportunities for, and celebrating, successes of followers
6. Using symbols and drama to emphasize key values
7. Empowering people to achieve the overall vision, and leading by
Transformational leadership is a relationship of mutual duplication and
advancement that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders
into moral agents (Burns, 1978); the leaders influence process allows the
followers the space to have impact on the vision. The leader provides a
learning environment and models being a learner
Differences between Charismatic and Transformational Leadership
The charismatic leader is responsible for articulating the vision, and gaining
agreement and commitment to it. On the other hand, the transformational
leader is open to input and impact of the followers to the vision and this
promotes power sharing.

Unlike the charismatic leader who is empowered by the submission of his

followers to his vision, the transformational leader and his followers share a
reciprocal process of empowerment. (Burns, 1978; Conger & Kanungo, 1998)
With the transformational leaders, there is mutual elevation and stimulation
between leader and follower; fulfilment of the vision involves both leader and
followers (Burns, 1978). Not so with the charismatic leader where fulfilment
of the vision depends on the leader stimulating followers. (Shamir, et al.,
While the charismatic leader tends to have a need to appear larger than life,
embellish him/herself, or maintain a comfortable distance from followers so
as to attain status, the transformational leader does not fit such criteria as
exemplified by the likes of Gandhi and Mother Teresa who work with, and
among, their followers.
The transformational leadership approach does not accommodate or exhibit
self-aggrandizement, as envisioned and practiced by charismatic leaders.
Also, the negative association of need for power and affiliation being central
to the charismatic leadership is absent in the transformational leadership
model. The concern and focus of the transformational leader is on the
It is the responsibility of the charismatic leader to continue to stimulate and
envision her followers. On the other hand, the transformational leader
operates on the assumption that his followers are visionary and just need a
situation where that vision can come forward.

The common ground for both charismatic and transformational leadership
theories is the ability of both approach to influence followers and effect
change in the organization or group; the influence processes used by both
are different, and there is continued debate in the distinction between the
two approaches. No one style of leadership fits all situations; therefore, it is
important to understand the different leadership frameworks and styles.
Once this is done, the leader can adapt his or her approach to fit the existing
situation. The two leadership approaches exhibit interactions between the
leader and follower; all the conditions are not required to be met, and it
takes time for such relationships to develop.

1. Musser, S.J. (1987). The Determination of Positive & Negative
Charismatic Leader
2. Conger, J.A., & R. N. Kanungo; Charismatic Leadership in Organizations.
3. Leadership Styles: Choosing the Right Path for the Situation (Center for
Leadership Studies)
4. Leithwood & Jantzi (2000)
5. Organizations: Behavior, Structure, Processes (Gibson, J. L., et al. 14h
6. Emerging Leadership Journeys, Vol. 6, Issue 1. Regent University (2013)