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Charisma, Leadership, and Historiography

CHARISMA IS a social phenomenon, not an individual trait, but using the concept loosely (as we all do) as a catch-all analytical description for magnetism, fame, heroism, or celebrity status is both misleading and confusing. Loose usage obscures the significance of the interactions between genuinely charismatic men or women – usually political and organizational leaders and gifted mobilizers rather than movie stars and athletic giants – and their believers and followers. Adulation is not necessarily indicative of charisma, nor is popular appeal. Charismatic leaders and their devotees together move barriers and overcome obstacles in order to achieve transformative goals. Notwithstanding Weber’s analysis of charisma for spiritual purposes, charisma is best understood as the inspirational component of the bond between leaders and their political and organizational followers that allows them to act as if they are genuinely inspired to maximize what they presume, or are led to believe, are their own interests.

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