Leadership, Charisma, and Narcissism

HitStalinPol Pot

  1. Charisma
    The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) applied the centuries-old religious connotations of charisma to politics with the following classic definition: “Charisma is a certain quality of 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. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.” But he also added a second criterion: “the recognition on the part of those subject to authority” is decisive for the validity of charisma.”(See Wikipedia: Charisma)
    In the 21st century, “supernatural” and “superhuman” are outdated notions, but exceptional powers or qualities are easily attributed to political leaders and dignitaries. From the simple village mayor or MP in the constituency up to ministers, prime ministers, and presidents, leaders are always surrounded by beaming and smiling faces, happy slaves when they are blessed with attention or a handshake. The aura of power produces already a semblance of charisma – not necessarily in need of outstanding personal qualities. And in the era of omnipresence and ubiquity of TV coverage, telegenic qualities and good looks may easily supersede the natural authority of personality. Personal charisma and media charisma may be very different, but the latter can be influenced and has created a whole new industry of coaching and political consultancy.
  2. Dangers of Charisma?
    Elections are highly emotional for the candidates because they are a test for attractiveness and potential of charisma and often end up in rejection. The crux is that among a number of candidates with personal charisma there may be some with more ambition than charisma and less desirable narcissistic potential in their quest to be elected.Oxford don Kevin Dutton has published a provocative book on psychopaths and success in 2012: “The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.” An article in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-dutton/boss-psychopath_b_2083799.html referring to this book, lists tell-tale signs of “ps-I-chopathy” in your boss. Honi soit qui mal y pense, but some features sound somewhat familiar in the political sphere…

    Signs of Psychopathy According to Kevin Dutton (excerpts) 

    a) Emotional powerplay
    Psychopaths are social chameleons and can change their psychological spots in the blink of an eye if they think they can benefit from doing so. Playing on sympathy is a favourite weapon of choice.

    b) Control freak
    Psychopaths are emotional chess players and a psychopathic boss sees his employees merely as pieces on an invisible psychological chessboard: disposable, dispensable, superfluous.c) Charming
    Psychopaths are past masters at making scintillating first impressions and possess an innate gift for making you feel as if you’re the only person in the room.

    d) Parasitical
    Irrespective of whether they play the charm, manipulation or sympathy cards, psychopaths are corporate vampires and are second to none in their ability to take you into their confidence and suck out valuable new ideas that may have been months in the planning.

    e) Deceitful
    Psychopaths simply do not live by the same moral code as the rest of us, and experience little guilt or anxiety over telling lies – either to big themselves up, or to dump on others, or both.

    f) Narcissistic
    Psychopaths are completely driven by their own hard-nosed self-interest. Though they may feign concern for others, appearing warm, considerate and even helpful, such interest is shallow and superficial and merely serves as the foreplay for future exploitation. For psychopath, read “ps-I-chopath.”

    g) Non-stick
    Psychopaths make expert defence attorneys and are supremely skilled at getting themselves off the hook should accusations of incompetence be levelled at them.

    h) Non risk-averse
    The neural power-cut in the fear zip code of psychopaths’ brains means that things that would scare the hell out of the rest of us just don’t have the same impact on these ice-cool emotional androids.

    i) Power-hungry
    Psychopaths are attracted to positions of influence in which they can satisfy their need to control and manipulate others.

    k) X-Factor
    Psychopaths often do give out a certain ‘aura’ and folk sometimes report experiencing unnerving physical sensations in their presence such as “he sends a chill up my spine” and “he makes my skin crawl.”

The good news: This type of psychopaths is very rare among contemporary politicians and only applies to monsters like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and the like. See photographs…
The bad news: According to a 2008 survey on psychopathic personalities among American college students, the incidence is growing steadily (Journal of Personality, 76:4, August 2008). Nota bene: students, not politicians!

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