This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of people attended Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C. Though Jon Stewart kept the reason behind this rally purposefully vague, it was well known that it was a response to Glenn Beck’s earlier rally. Jon Stewart targeted a certain group of people for this rally, and as is described on its website, the rally was designed for “people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard…Are you one of those people? Excellent. Then we’d like you to join us in Washington, DC on October 30 — a date of no significance whatsoever — at the Daily Show’s ‘Rally to Restore Sanity.’'
This could be described as a visionary event, but what exactly was the vision? Those who attended the rally might think of Jon Stewart as a visionary leader, but what vision was he trying to convey. According to Sashkin, there are three main aspects to visionary leadership. The first two include constructing a vision for an organization and its culture, and developing programs and practices that put this vision into practice. “The third aspect centers on the leader’s own practices, the specific actions in which leaders engage on a one-to-one basis in order to create and support their visions.” (403) Jon Stewart clearly had a vision for his rally, but how well did he communicate it. He engaged with his viewers and followers to support his vision, but it is not clear that this event conveyed visionary leadership. At the end of his rally, Stewart closed with some poignant thoughts. He said, “The country's 24-hour, political pundit, perpetual, panic conflict-inator did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” He connected with his audience by concluding, “Sanity has always been in the eye of the beholder. And to see you here today, and the kind of people that you are, has restored mine”
If Jon Stewart did not display visionary leadership, was he just using referent power? Referent power occurs when a leader does not have expertise and he therefore builds strong ties with subordinates. “Referent power refers to the potential influence once has due to the strength of the relationship between the leader and the followers.” (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 341) This rally clearly attracted followers, and they felt a strong connection to Stewart and his words. His referent power could also be a consequence of his charisma. At his rally, Stewart portrayed Choi’s three core components of charismatic leadership: envisioning, empathy, and empowering. (25) Stewart’s connection to his audience allows him to be a leader to them through these features.
It is important to understand the roles of commentators like Jon Stewart because of the impact they have on society. If people look to them for news, guidance, or even just laughs, it puts them in a position of power. Whatever one personally thinks of Jon Stewart and his show, it is important to understand what drew more than 200,000 people to see what he had to say.
So what do you think? Do you think Jon Stewart has power, and if yes, does that translate to leadership? Is Jon Stewart visionary, or just really charismatic? Do you trust him more than politicians? Do you think his work matters?