What is charisma? Who has it? What does it take to have charisma? Charisma is known as a personality trait, but can it be considered a quality a person possesses? An individual with charisma is able to inspire and motivate people around themselves, but the direction a leader inspires is not necessarily good. This may be the case to those being influenced by the person they choose to follow, but it’s not always positive in the eyes of society’s morals. David Koresh is a prime example of a charismatic leader, but the people he led seemed to be blind to their own health, and their family’s health, both physically and mentally. This can settle any argument about charisma being a true quality, or a positive trait of someone’s personality. One of the moving characteristics concerning the followers of Koresh was the unplausible trust they had for Koresh, which demonstrates trust as one of the strongest attributes a charismatic leader can possess. Can one conclude though, that trust is the strongest and most important asset to charisma? Maybe in David Koresh’s predicament, but not in all cases of charisma. Charisma has many elements to it, and in different situations any one one factor can be stronger than another.

Trust is indeed a very strong element involved with charisma because it allows followers to see past many imperfections, either physically or psychologically, that their leader may have. Trust gives an assurance in people’s actions toward their leader even though many times all the needed and desired information about this person is not known (Fairholm, 1994). The followers of the charismatic leader David Koresh were a prime example of unwavering trust despite the fact that David’s principles were immoral to the accepted views of society. Gilbert Fairholm (1994) acknowledges trust as transforming and being able to impel, or empower, others to change towards the views of the trusted leader. Koresh’s followers acted sexually immoral, giving up their daughters and wives to the wants of their leader, forgetting their own principles and ethics. People trusted David Koresh enough to sacrifice their lives and their human livelihood. Followers were willing to forget everything they knew and valued and they placed their lives into the hands of Koresh and allowed him to make their decisions in their social and personal lives. The Koresh church ended by burning to the ground without anyone escaping the life taking flames to save their family’s or their own lives. The faith in David Koresh was taken to the grave by his followers, showing the frightening strength of trust.

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Other principles someone with charisma might possess is having and sharing a vision. Visions are a strong influence used by leaders to inspire followers supporting them and has proven to give exceptionally good results from followers (Kirkpatrick ; Locke, 1996). Former president John F. Kennedy had a great vision for America, and with it he revealed to Americans the possibilities of a better world through hard work and steady devotion. Kennedy was young and rich, but compassionate towards those who were less fortunate than others. President Kennedy’s vision was a beautiful, public-spirited picture, which was inspiring to many American citizen’s. The picture he painted was one of unity and peace worldwide. With Kennedy’s saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” he motivated thousands of Americans, even the elite, to join the United States Peace Corp.

John Kennedy also used a component of charisma known as vision implementation during his presidency. Experiments show that vision implementation provides some of the best results from people being led by charismatic leaders (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1996). With vision implementation, Kennedy was able to lead citizens more strongly in their march for prosperity. John Kennedy utilized his advantage of vision implementation by setting an example of a model person who worked firmly and consistently towards each of his goals. As a role model, Kennedy showed how to take the proper attitude and approach to following through with hard work in reaching goals. Another way President Kennedy employed vision implementation was by giving his support to individuals who focused their efforts towards improving and promoting humanitarian organizations.

Communication Style is probably one of the most visible components of charisma within an influential leader. Having strong communication skills empowers an individual to exalt his or her charismatic attributes. Dr. Tony Alessandra points out that the ability to talk and persuade others, both forms of communication style, are key ingredients of charisma (Alessandra, no date). Adolf Hitler exemplified his ability of communication, and is one of the most revered speakers of all time, albeit villainous. When Adolf Hitler spoke, he spoke with enthusiasm, and he spoke with an untouchable confidence that filled German followers with inspiration and motivation. Hitler created a sense of Nazi superiority over all nations and ethnic groups worldwide within his German followers. The Nazis followed Hitler in the famous World War II Holocaust massacre, taking countless numbers of lives from the Jews and anyone else who posed a threat to the German regime. From the leadership and speeches by Dictator Adolf Hitler, Germans rampaged throughout Europe to achieve the dominance they believed their race to have.

Charisma is a very strong and influential personality trait, but it cannot be deduced from someone’s social status or position they may hold. Charisma must reflect a person’s attitude and behavior (Shamir, 1992). The features of trust, taking and sharing a vision and communication style are all common qualities a strong leader possesses. One must conclude though, that these qualities are not only possessed by strong political and social leaders. Gaining someone’s trust in friendship, having a vision and/or communicating with someone else is an everyday occurrence for many people. All people have the ability and potential to have charisma. It is up to the individual to decide what he or she will do with their own possibilities.

Alessandra, T. Charisma (no date). (online)…alessandra_phd/charisma/index.html
Fairholm, G. W. (1994). Leadership and the culture of trust. Praeger Publishers
Kirkpatrick, S. A., ; Locke, E. A. (1996). Direct and indirect effects of three core charismatic leadership components on performance and attitudes. Journal of Applied Psycology, 81(1), 36-48.

Shamir, B. (1992). Attribution of influence and charisma to the leader: The romance of leadership revisited. Journal of Applied Social Psycology, 22(5), 387-407


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