Franklin d

Franklin D. Roosevelt had it, as did John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Barack Obama has it too—charisma, that rare and elusive quality that enables a leader to excite and motivate voters and capture the popular imagination.

A charismatic leader is someone who sways followers with a dynamic, magnetic personality, usually through inspiring speeches. Martin Luther King, Jr, is a great example of a charismatic leader. One way to explain charismatic leadership is to contrast it with thought leadership. The former is the triumph of style over substance while the latter is just the opposite. For thought leadership, substance or content is king! People follow charismatic leaders almost regardless of the content of their message while thought leaders have to provide hard evidence (solid content) to influence people.

In his unfinished treatise “Economy and Society”, German sociologist Max Weber defined charisma as “a certain quality in an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.”

Weber made a distinction between charismatic authority, which is purely personal, and legal (or rational) authority, which is derived from position, and also traditional authority, typically based on lineage. What makes charismatic authority so rare, and so potent, was that it -unlike the other two- entails an emotional element. In charismatic leadership followers think of their leaders as being endowed with qualities so special that they deserve devotion and even blind faith.

Charisma was one of the most discussed aspects of Obama’s presidential campaign, in fact, has been his ability to create a sort of political rapture in his followers, especially young people. Obama is playing a role of regenerative healer, he says: we are hurting, Our schools are crumbling, There are lines in the emergency rooms of the hospitals, millions of Americans are struggling with life’s difficulties such as high gas bills and insufficient health insurance. The solution, he says, lies in a political reformation. Unless we “begin the process of changing politics and our civic life, we will bequeath to our children a weaker and more fractured America than the one we inherited”.

On that ground, Obama’s mantra was “Change we can believe in”, Obama’s charismatic doctrine begins in belief of radical change, he believes in the possibility of a transformative politics to heal America’s pain and change American lives, radically and for the better, he says: we can replace a politics that breeds division, conflict, and cynicism with a politics that fosters unity and peace. His charisma is grounded in empathy and sympathetic power rather than authority, confessional candor rather than muscular strength.

The question that remains to be answered is whether president Obama is really capable of translating his promises into reality? and if the answer is yes, then to what extent he can realize the elusive change, not only for Americans but for all people around the world who have been inspired by Obama’s charismatic qualities? Only time can give us answers.

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