Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sarah Palin has charisma? You Betcha.

After being selected as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Sarah Palin has since resigned as Governor of Alaska to become the perceived leader of the Tea Party. She is a conservative author, speaker and television pundit. She describes herself as a “maverick” and a “mama grizzly.”

Charismatic Leadership

Sarah Palin is the clear leader of the Tea Party political movement, whether she admits it or not. The power and influence she has over the Tea Party members is a result of her charismatic personality. In many cases, Sarah Palin has used her influence to move the national debate in a direction that is favorable to the Tea Party. According to Choi, charismatic leaders articulate values and ideological goals attractive to their followers (2006). She then motivates Tea Party members to vote in upcoming elections by endorsing, fundraising and campaigning for candidates that are more conservative. She gives Tea Party members hope that they have the power to shape the country, and encourages them to do so. Choi says that a charismatic leader empowers his or her followers by helping them feel powerful and capable (2006).

Personalized Leadership Style

While Sarah Palin does possess charisma in her ability to lead the Tea Party, it is important to specify which type of charisma: personalized or socialized. The fact that Palin uses her un-official position as leader of the Tea Party to make money and promote her own image suggests that she has a personalized leadership style. Personalized charismatic leadership is described as “exploitative, non-egalitarian, and self-aggrandizing” (Choi, 2006). For example, she charged her own Tea Party followers $100,000 to speak at the Tea Party Convention (, 2010). She attempted to charge a Republican Convention in Iowa $100,000 to appear, but the group was unable to raise the money (Martin, 2009). And finally, the worst example of her exploitation came on September 11, 2010 when she charged Alaskans between $75 and $225 to attend her 9/11 Anniversary Ceremony (Vecsey, 2010). The question Palin supporters must ask: if she is so committed to the cause, then why doesn’t she occasionally speak for free? Choi accurately sums up this kind of personalized leadership style by calling it “the dark side of charismatic leadership” (2006).

Referent Power and Inspirational Tactics

The majority of Americans do not feel Palin is qualified to be President (Langer, 2010). The general feeling is that she does not have the knowledge required to hold the nation’s highest office. However, “one way to counteract the lack of expertise is to build strong interpersonal ties with subordinates” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1993). The fact that members of the Tea Party are so enamored by her is evidence of how well she has overcome the lack of knowledge to build strong emotional connections. Palin has a great deal of referent power, which is “the potential influence one has due to the strength of the relationship between the leader and the followers” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1993). Palin makes use of this referent power and influences her followers with inspirational tactics that “arouse enthusiasm or emotion” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1993). This is shown by her use of hyperbole that is designed to spark strong emotion and controversy. For example, Palin recently said that President Obama doesn’t have the “cojones” to protect the country (MacNichol, 2010). She even suggested that Obama is a socialist (Conroy, 2008). All of this creates excitement among her supporters and elevates her stature.

Why is this important?

Political movements are full of leaders who genuinely believe in the cause and make personal sacrifices. But there are also leaders who use the cause as a vehicle for personal ambitions. It is important for followers to understand the difference and identify the true leaders.

Works Cited

Choi, J. (2006). A Motivational Theory of Charasmatic Leadership: Envisioning, Empathy, and Empowerment. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies , 13 (1), 24-43.

Conroy, S. (2008 йил 19-10). Palin: Obama's Plan Is "Experiment With Socialism". Retrieved 2010 йил 18-9 from CBS News: (2010 йил 3-2). Palin Defends Tea Party Convention, Says Speaking Fee Will Go to the 'Cause'. Retrieved 2010 йил 19-9 from FOX News:

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (1993). Power, Influence, and Influence Tactics. In Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. Richard D. Irwin, Inc.

Langer, G. (2010 йил 11-2). Poll: Tea Party Shows Prospects; Less So for Sarah Palin. Retrieved 2010 йил 18-9 from ABC News:

MacNichol, G. (2010 йил 1-8). Sarah Palin Would Like President Obama To Grow A Pair Of ‘Cojones’. Retrieved 2010 йил 18-9 from Mediaite:

Martin, J. (2009 йил 29-10). Iowa Republicans wince at Sarah Palin's $100K speaking fee. Retrieved 2010 йил 19-9 from

Vecsey, L. (2010 йил 8-9). Sarah Palin announces 9/11 event with Glenn Beck in Alaska. Retrieved 2010 йил 19-9 from


  1. Very well written blog. Sarah Palin definitely uses charisma to overcome her lack of expertise concerning politics. It is evident from her course of actions that she understands the clout which comes with building strong interpersonal relations and maintaining her charisma. As a result her followers have clung to her every move and support all of her endeavors. This raises the question that if your followers attain more knowledge than the leader, will they remain followers. I do not know much about the Tea Party and how they consult concerning political issues, but I do know of several political experts who would never follow Sarah Palin because of her lack of knowledge about the field. Does a leader have to have more expertise than their followers?

  2. Thanks, Melanie.

    You bring up an interesting question. My own opinion is that Tea Party followers do not believe she lacks knowledge. In fact, they believe she is a genius. Why? Because all she does is give voice to their views. When followers hear their own beliefs and opinions being echoed by a charismatic leader, they mistake what is actually referent power for expert power.


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