Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Obama and his "mojo"

This morning CNN posted an article entitled, “How did Obama lose his mojo?” ( As the president approaches the midway mark of his first term in office, many Americans are analyzing his effectiveness in leading our nation and whether he has lived up to the high expectations that the nation held when he was elected. While so many Democrats supported Obama in the beginning, many of these politicians are beginning to stray because of the lack of significant accomplishments on the agenda. While there is no doubt that the administration has made progress and achieved some goals, there are many people who feel too much was promised and not enough was gained in a quick amount of time.

Immediately, I began to think of our class discussions on charismatic leadership and the characteristics that define the leaders that are so influential in our world. Dubbed a “campaign superstar,” President Obama promised the nation a “transformational presidency” and represented a changing country. He won the support of so many and began to be the more popular candidate due to his charismatic personality; however, does our president’s dropping approval ratings prove that charisma is not all that a nation needs in its leader? Is charisma only effective if you believe in the goals and values of the individual you are following and if that person can fulfill your expectations? Can charisma be as harmful as it is beneficial, and can a leader truly lose this admired characteristic?

Rakesh Khurana writes in his article “The Curse of the Superstar CEO,” “the charismatic CEO…was expected to offer a vision of a radically different future and to attract and motivate followers for a journey to the new promised land.” Obama certainly followed this characteristic, inspiring the nation to elect him as their leader; however, because not all expectations have been met, individuals are disappointed in the administration’s leadership. Oftentimes, as Khurana writes, when performance slows or fails, followers look to a new “savior”, even if the difficulties are attributed elsewhere. Why do we often place all of the responsibility on a leader and attach the successes and failures solely to them? There are so many other participants and factors that contribute to an accomplishment yet oftentimes they are overlooked. As followers, do we not have a responsibility to also work to fulfill the goals and vision that we associate with our leader? If we do not create an environment of success and opportunities for change and growth, we cannot expect it to happen.

At what point are we, as followers, responsible for the situations we find ourselves in? President Obama is certainly not the only man creating policy and working to implement change, so why does it appear he is the scapegoat for our failures? The CNN article quotes a voter that believed “the president is simply stuck in a toxic political environment.” How do we determine if this is actually the case or if the president’s charisma overshadowed his capabilities to inspire reform?

Regardless of your feelings for a leader, how do you think we should evaluate leadership style and effectiveness? What role does charisma play in the current Obama administration? How does a charismatic leader influence the involvement of his or her followers?

Leadership on The West Wing

I am obsessed with the show The West Wing. I don’t just watch it every once in a while…I own the whole series and play it in the background of my life. For those who don’t know, The West Wing is a fictitious show about the President of the United States. In thinking about our various definitions of leadership, it comes as no surprise that I would be able to write about this show in reference to leadership. However, while watching one episode a couple of weeks ago, I came across a quote that stood out in my mind.

In this episode, the President and the Speaker of the House could not come to an agreement about the budget. The speaker had promised them (the White House) one thing, but when it came time to make the deal, he “pulled a bait and switch.” In that moment, the President decided that there would be no deal and he refused to sign the budget by the deadline. The Federal Government was shut down as a result, but the President was confident in his convictions. While he took a step back, other members of the party and the president’s senior advisors were doing everything in their power to make a deal with the speaker and finalize the budget. At this moment in time, the President’s polls were at its lowest and the country did not have faith in its leader. The Vice President, in trying to fix the situation, met with the Chief of Staff. On his way out the door, the Vice President said, “You know what they call a leader with no followers? Just a guy taking a walk.”

This quote emphasizes the relationship between a leader and his or her followers that are highlighted in our readings. Geneen defines leadership as “the ability to inspire other people to work together as a team, following your lead, in order to attain a common objective…no one can do it all alone. Others must want to follow the leader.” (4) The President, without anyone following him, is not a leader. Their objective is not a common one, and the President is standing alone on a ledge. Though the President has legitimate power because of his position, Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy state that “holding a position and being a leader are not synonymous.” (144) His position as President alone did not qualify him as being a leader at that point, only as being the head of the country.

When Rost describes the relationship between leaders and followers, he insists that leaders must interact with other people, or followers. “If all the people with whom leaders interacted were other leaders, leadership as a meaningful construct would not make sense.” (190) Leaders, by definition, have to be leading someone. The Vice Presidents thoughts were on par with Rost: if a leader is not leading anyone, then he is not a leader.

Some questions to think about:

Do you agree that a person needs followers to be considered a leader? Can a person of legitimate power, such as the president, ever be a leader without followers? Does the number of followers that a President has affect his role or position as a leader?

John Paul II: A “Rebel with a Cause”

Most people see the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church as a figure head whose duty is to further the Church's interests and “social responsibilities” around the world. But many people of many walks of faith see Pope John Paul II, or Karol Josef Wojtyla, differently. Sharif Khan describes him as, “Heroes are rebels with a cause. Rebels because they challenge the traditional ways of thinking and refuse to follow the herd. They have a cause, a vision, that's larger than life”.

I believe that he draws his power from various pools. First off he has vast expert power because by the time he was named Pope he already was a professor in ethics and had completed two doctorate degrees in theology. Sharif Khan summarizes Wojtyla’s leadership into the following categories: humility, heart, forgiveness, and responsibility. These ideas definitely fall into Choi’s criteria for a charismatic leader, as his vision and empathy were is greatest leadership attributes. He tapped into his followers’ need for affiliation as well as need for achievement. Above all his relationship with his followers is key. He broke many traditions and symbols in the Catholic Church in order to promote his ideals; in doing so he changed the papal role from one of supreme authority to one of servant-hood.

While reading Goleman’s article on getting results, the affiliative style embodies Pope John Paul II. Goleman says that affiliative leaders “manage by building strong emotional bonds and…fierce loyalty. The style also has a markedly positive effect on communication…to build team harmony, increase morale, or repair broken trust.” Wojtyla opened up rather controversial, inter-religious communication like no Pope had done before. Wojtyla was the first pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1979, in 2000 he visited Jerusalem's Yad Vashem and prayed for reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and he was the first Pope ever to enter a mosque.

Not only did he involve himself in religious matters, but also in political matters. He took on responsibilities because he did not see people by religion, rather by their need for help. He helped inspire Solidarity in Poland, forgave his attempted assassin, even met with Arafat and Castro. He used his role as Pope to serve the people on their terms. Open communication and the relationship he had with his followers is what granted him the power to become a global figurehead. In Heifetz’s term a leader has to take a stand, be socially useful and engage our values. Under these and the aforementioned examples I consider Wojtyla an effective leader.

But do you think Pope John Paul II’s leadership style could work in someone else’s position? Could a political leader or CEO practice humility, heart, forgiveness, and responsibility? Indeed all of these could be applied to a given situation, but matter of the question is the effectiveness.

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

The Imperfect Leader - Charlie Brown

Do any of you remember the days when the newspaper would arrive in the mornings and the first section that you would grab was the Comics? At least this was the case for me. Reading short sentences that were supported by cartoon drawing always caught my attention. Skimming through the likes of Marmaduke, Family Circus, Beetle Bailey, and Garfield allowed me to escape from reality and jump into my youthful imagination. In addition, there was one comic in particular that I always saved for last... and that was Peanuts. I fell in love with Charles Schultz’s wide variety of characters and it seemed that there was always a “theme” I could attach myself to on a daily basis. Along with that, the leader of the Peanut Gang, Charlie Brown, always fascinated me because of the lackluster attributes that he showcased.

As we have learned over that first month of class, there are many different theories and theorist who try to put leadership in a certain context. The one that I want to focus on with Charlie Brown is the concept that leaders emerge due to their physical and mental attributes. Before we get started analyzing Charlie through these parameters, I believe that we should first get to know his characteristics. This will open the door for the leadership concepts that Kirkpatrick, De Pree, and Heifitz present.

Many of you may know that Charlie Brown is almost the complete opposite of a physically or mentally appealing leader. The young boy is timid, socially awkward, unathletic, disgruntled, nervous, to just name a few. In short, this fellow is quite the lovable loser… he fails at everything, yet he always gives 110%. From losing every game he pitches to falling for Lucy’s football-kick trick, he simply can not win. Comparing these attributes to those that Kirkpatrick describes, one should believe that Charlie Brown will never be considered a leader. In the article, Leadership: Do Traits Matter, Kirkpatrick (1991) states that “leaders are achievement-oriented, ambitious, energetic, proactive, and tenacious” (pg. 136). None of these describe our lovable loser at all.

Yet for some reason, the Peanut gang always seemed to look to him whenever guidance was needed. Why is this? The rationale behind this, in my opinion, is hidden behind the cloud of negative attributes I just described. After weaving through those negatives, one should notice that Charlie Brown is quite an astounding leader. The perseverance that he shows through adversity is second to none. When the whole Peanut gang sees a lost cause, Charlie sees hope. For example, in the hit Charlie Brown Christmas movie, he moved the thoughts of the Gang toward the real reason for Christmas rather than letting them go on with their commercialized conceptions. As Heifitz (1998) stated in Values of Leadership, leadership is about mobilizing individuals to tackle tough problems. This is exactly what Charlie did and will always do… he will go towards the “good” every time. Hence, Charlie Brown follows Heifitz’s theory and tries to “absorb the stress for his followers” (pg. 17).

All in all, I believe it is important to observe an oddball like Charlie Brown in this context due to the fact that he does not fit the normal mold of a leader. It shows that one does not have to necessarily have outstanding attributes, but more of a guiding model through ones actions. The integrity, which De Pree (1992) calls the “linchpin of leadership”, will override the negative attributes and create the possibility for leadership. Charlie Brown never asked or probably never wanted to be the leader of the Peanut gang, but it is certain that the willingness to succeed was always there no matter how many times he failed. Thus, I leave you with a statement by Charlie Brown that epitomizes this post perfectly, “There must be millions of people in the world that never get love letters… I could be their leader”.

Just to spark some comments, what do you think of Charlie Brown? Could he lead in today’s world?