Weber’s “charisma” still rules the world of interpretations, it seems so.
The departure of J Jayalalithaa, an influential mass leader, and iconic Cuban leader Fidel Castro takes us back to the roots of the development of the very concept of “leadership” which was put forth by one of the classical thinkers in Sociology – Max Weber. As we are well aware, Weber also gifted us with the irreplaceable system of “bureaucracy” to run the administrative system of the society. Thus, Weber’s contribution is significant in the field of sociology as well as public administration.
To analyse the contribution of a leader and to understand the traits in a person who aspires to be a leader, Weber comes up with the types of leadership that can be seen in any respective society. Though we always associate “Leadership” with “Power”, there are different sources which are responsible for vesting power in a particular leader.
He puts forth three basic types of leadership – Traditional, Legal-Rational, and Charismatic.
By “Traditional”, Weber means that in some leaders the power is vested traditionally. The “Legal-Rational” form of leadership talks about giving power to the leaders by the legal and the most rational ways present in the society. Lastly, and most interestingly, the “Charismatic” leadership is all about the charisma or some peculiar characteristics or the intrinsic leadership qualities that a particular individual has and for him these qualities become crucial so as to shape up as the leader of the masses.
India specific observations
Interestingly in India, we have some regional pockets that have been showcasing some peculiar or typical forms of leadership, and thus, it becomes necessary to apply Weber’s theory of leadership in the current context. While we talk about India and the typical leadership legacies that are developed here, we can’t think further without mentioning the regions like Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and so on. If we take a closer look, we find that these States have been producing typical forms of the “charismatic” leadership that Weber talks about.
Why do we think about it?
The news that people, who could not digest the news of Jayalalithaa’s demise, tried to commit suicide makes one ponder over a few questions:
1) What is so influential about the leadership of a charismatic leader?
2) What is it that makes people so attached to the leader?
3) Why do people feel like taking their own lives when they get to know about the death of their beloved leader? (This in other words also means that people consider their leader is more valuable than their lives)
4) What all does it take to develop the “charisma”?
5) Do such charismatic leaders exist only in the field of politics?
It becomes interesting to find answers to all such questions which would probably give us an understanding of how the entire concept of leadership shapes up and how it is linked to power.
Let’s go into the basics
Historian Arthur Schlesinger popularised the term “charisma” in 1960s and later he also complained that the word was misused or was merely reduced to “a synonym for heroic”. The term “charisma” was widely used during the time of Second World War mainly to describe influential leaders like Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and we also find that the word was used with equal frequency for the leaders like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, etc. Further, Max Weber described “Charisma” as “magnetism of an individual”.
How do we interpret it?
From the above mentioned observations, it comes to our notice that “charismatic leadership” is not always to be completely interpreted in the negative sense as well as in the positive sense. The charismatic leadership would probably be helpful for any society when it strikes a balance between “driving the minds of the people” and “guiding the minds” of the people. Such leaders do not only exist in the field of politics, they can be very well present in the field of education, economy, religion, etc.
While we talk about the factor of “magnetism”, we must talk about certain qualities that a charismatic leader might possess or any individual should have these qualities to be shaped up as a charismatic leader. These qualities can be listed as: Innovation, being demand-driven, humility, developing connections with people, etc. However, while we need to understand and interpret the “charismatic leadership”, we need to be wise enough to understand that leadership has always got close connections with “power”, particularly in the field of politics.
We need to understand that once the minds of the individuals are influenced by the leaders, they might tend to be in the same phase for the lifetime but the leaders might change in their attitudes as power gaining remains the only goal for them. Thus, people committing suicide because of the death of their beloved leader sounds like a worrisome trend. Such signs might reflect “emotionally driven” connections at the initial level but it does also reflect that the “leaders have moved beyond the charisma” wherein they influence their followers but do not inspire them to take the legacy forward.
To conclude, one can say that when charisma is projected in a balanced way and has got a deep conviction attached to it, it remains significant for the society. As Simon Sinek has rightly pointed out, “Leadership is not about the next election, it is about the next generation”, and it is in this respect that we look at the charismatic leadership as an asset to be utilised in the longer run.