A motivational theory of charismatic leadership: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment.

Author:Choi, Jaepil

The motivational effects of charismatic leadership are examined in greater detail. Charismatic leadership is assumed to have three core components." envisioning, empathy, and empowerment. A charismatic leader's envisioning behavior influences followers' need for achievement, and the leader's empathic behavior stimulates followers' need for affiliation. Followers' need for power is enhanced by a charismatic leader's empowerment practices. It is further suggested that the behaviors of a charismatic leader and the enhanced followers' needs promote clearer role perceptions, improved task performance, greater job satisfaction, stronger collective identity and group cohesiveness, more organizational citizenship behaviors, and stronger self-leadership among the followers. The contextual factors which may influence the motivational effects of charismatic leadership are also discussed.


Many scholars have argued that a charismatic leader inspires followers and generates some excitement among them (Bass, 1985; Burns, 1978; Conger & Kanungo, 1998; House, 1977) so that they perform beyond expectations. Despite the consensus on the effects of charismatic leadership, however, very few motivational theories on charismatic leadership have been proposed to explain explicitly how it affects followers' needs. This lack of research on the motivational effects of charismatic leadership could result from one or both of the following reasons.

First, previous research has noted the elusive nature and the mystical connotations of charismatic leadership (Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Yukl, 1999). Thus, the core features of charismatic leadership have been explained in many different ways by different scholars (Bass, 1985; Burke, 1986). For instance, Conger and Kanungo (1998) discussed charismatic leadership in light of a constellation of a leader's observable behaviors toward followers. In contrast, Meindl (1990) explained charismatic leadership in view of an inter-follower social contagion process, according to which followers' attributions of charisma are more strongly influenced by the interactions with other followers than by their direct experiences with the leader. This divergence in the conceptualization of charismatic leadership has hindered researchers in examining how a charismatic leader affects his/her followers' needs.

Second, many studies on charismatic leadership have taken a less interactional approach in the sense that they have focused primarily on the charismatic leader's personality traits (Behling & McFillen, 1996; Dubinsky, Yammarino, & Jolson, 1995; Nadler & Tushman, 1990) or profiles of leader motives (De Hoogh et al., 2005; House, 1977; House, Spangler, & Woycke, 1991). Because these studies investigated a charismatic leader in an isolated manner from followers, very little is known on how a charismatic leader's behaviors displayed in interactions with followers affect the profiles of their needs.

This study aims to develop a theoretical model of charismatic leadership which highlights its motivational effects on followers. More specifically, we propose that most charismatic leaders display several common behavioral characteristics in the interactions with their followers. Each of these behavioral characteristics arouses certain internal needs of the followers. The followers whose needs are stimulated in a non-exploitative way will then reveal various degrees of positive attitudes and behaviors toward their leaders, co-workers, and organizations. As such, a motivational theory of charismatic leadership presented here suggests that a charismatic leader generally generates positive individual and organizational outcomes by displaying behaviors that stimulate followers' needs.

In order to achieve the abovementioned objective, this study first sets out to clarify the core features of charismatic leadership by identifying its three core components: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment. Based on an interactive approach that emphasizes the interaction between a leader and followers, we assert that the core components of charismatic leadership affect the need profiles of the followers. In particular, the arguments are developed indicating that envisioning, empathy, and empowerment of charismatic leaders stimulate the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power of followers, respectively. Each of these three components of charismatic leadership and each of the followers' three needs are linked through some motivational mechanisms. Taken together, the motivational effects of charismatic leadership were explained by the three behavioral components of charismatic leadership and the followers' changed three needs as responses to charismatic behaviors.

We are further interested in individual and organizational outcomes of the motivational effects of charismatic leadership. In particular, we discuss the consequences of enhancing followers' needs through charismatic leadership, such as role perceptions, job satisfaction, collective identity, group cohesiveness, task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and self-leadership.

It is also believed that the motivational effects of charismatic leadership vary as functions of various contextual factors (Howell, 1997; Pawar & Eastman, 1997; Shamir & Howell, 1999). Therefore, we also incorporate some critical contextual factors that may have significant implications on the effectiveness of charismatic leadership and on the interaction between a charismatic leader and followers. In particular, this study considers organizational factors, task factors, and follower factors as potentially important contextual factors that moderate the motivational effects of charismatic leadership. Figure 1 presents the conceptual framework for the motivational effects of charismatic leadership.


In the remainder of the paper, we first discuss charismatic leadership and its three core components. We then specify the needs of followers that may be influenced by each of the three components of charismatic leadership. This section also presents several propositions regarding the process of stimulating followers' needs. We then examine the consequences of the motivational effects of charismatic leadership. The next section discusses some contextual factors that may facilitate or impair the motivational effects of charismatic leadership. Finally, directions for the future study of the motivational effects of charismatic leadership are proposed.

The Three Core Components of Charismatic Leadership

Increasing attention has been directed during the past several decades toward charismatic leadership. The term "charisma," whose initial meaning is 'a gift' in Greek, has been frequently used in politics and religion to adduce legitimacy to power. Weber (1968) defined it as an individual's personality quality (or at least, specifically exceptional powers or qualities) by virtue of which he/she is set apart from ordinary people and which thus legitimizes his/her exercise of influence. House (1977) developed a theory of charismatic leadership which is among the first attempts to build a comprehensive theoretical basis for studying the topic.

In this study, we consider charismatic leadership as being based on a leader's behavior shown in his/her interactions with followers. Charismatic leadership can manifest itself in two different forms: personalized or socialized charismatic leadership (House & Howell, 1992; Howell, 1988; Howell & Shamir, 2005). The former is exploitative, non-egalitarian, and self-aggrandizing. Therefore, it has disastrous consequences for followers and the organization, as exemplified by the well-documented careers of such personalized leaders as Adolf Hitler and Jim Jones of Jonestown. This personalized leadership style represents the dark side of charismatic leadership (Conger, 1989), and it will not be considered in the following discussion.

This study instead focuses on socialized charismatic leadership, which is defined as being non-exploitative and as motivating followers to maximize the gains of the organization without regard for the leader's personal needs (Howell, 1988). It is also characterized by the leaders' efforts to assist followers by formulating higher-order goals which appeal to the followers' fundamental and enduring needs. It also instills in the followers a sense of power to pursue such goals. As such, instead of creating blind dependence among the followers, as is observed in the case of personalized charismatic leadership, socialized charismatic leadership is more of a developmental leadership style (Dvir, Eden, Avolio, & Shamir, 2002).

To explain the motivational effects of socialized charismatic leaders on their followers, it is first necessary to explain which of their behaviors generate those effects. We propose that socialized charismatic leadership is a constellation of three key behavioral components which are evident in the interactions with followers: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment.

These three components are in line with the elements of charismatic leadership as suggested by many previous studies (e.g., Bass, 1985; Burke, 1986; Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Tichy & DeVanna, 1986). Conger (1989) is among those who suggested that envisioning, communication of vision, trust, and empowerment are the key components of charismatic leadership. Similarly, Nadler and Tushman (1990) presented a three-component formulation of charismatic leadership encompassing envisioning, energizing, and enabling. Kirkpatrick and Locke (1996) also supposed three components of charismatic leadership focusing on the formulation and communication of vision: vision, vision implementation, and communication style.


Envisioning involves creating an overall picture of a desired future state with which people can identify and which can generate excitement. The creation and communication of a vision is one of...

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