At the Helm, Kirk or Spock? The Pros and Cons of Charismatic Leadership
55 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2014 Last revised: 3 Oct 2014
Date Written: October 2, 2014
Charisma is seen as a generally positive attribute for a leader to possess, yet many studies give it a "mixed report card": finding it can have little or no effect, or worse a negative effect. This paper develops a model to explain why. The key insight is that presenting the cold hard truth is often incompatible with simultaneously firing up followers — a tradeoff exists between information and inspiration. In particular, a temptation exists to hide bad news behind upbeat rhetoric. Rational followers understand such appeals conceal bad news. But as long as any followers are swayed by such appeals — respond to the leader's charisma — rational followers' pessimism is tempered, and more so the more charismatic the leader. Hence, a more charismatic leader can generate better responses from all followers with an emotional appeal than can a less charismatic leader. This is a benefit to charisma. But this power has a dark side: a highly charismatic leader is tempted to substitute charm for action — she is less likely to learn relevant information and, on certain margins, works less hard herself — all to her followers' detriment.
Keywords: leadership, charisma
JEL Classification: D23, D02, D83, M14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation