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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne Ciulla is Professor and Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, the only undergraduate degree-granting school of leadership studies in the world.

The genius and pitfalls of charisma

In response to the On Leadership question: As Sarah Palin goes about laying the foundation for a possible presidential candidacy, what could she do to burnish her leadership credentials beyond her conservative base?

A leaders' credibility depends on how well he or she fills follower's expectations in a variety of contexts. Presidents lead in settings ranging from town hall meetings to cabinet meetings. Each context requires them to possess the appropriate personal affect and relevant information.

At the Republican Convention and the recent Tea Party gathering, Sarah Palin exemplified the qualities that people want their leaders to have in such contexts. She demonstrated a keen sense of the emotional state of the room and effectively united the crowd - mostly by attacking a common enemy. Palin makes her audience feel good about themselves and empowered, but most importantly, she makes them want her as their leader. She does all of this with caustic humor moderated by a down-home charm (that her followers call "authenticity"), and a plain speaking style that conveys the idea that "The truth is simple and I have the truth." Palin likes to call herself a "maverick," but her leadership style has the hallmarks of a charismatic leader.

In the context of rallying the troops and preaching to the converted, she has plenty of leadership "cred." The media coverage she gets adds to that credibility in the eyes of followers. Pundits of every stripe speculate about whether Palin will run for president. This gives the impression that they regard her as a credible leader.

The question is, what happens when Palin finds herself in contexts where people expect leaders to be knowledgeable about the issues and propose solutions to the nation's problems? How does she expand her base?

The obvious answer is to hire consultants, crank up the conservative think tanks, and create the Palin platform. Palin says that she has been studying up on the issues. If she runs, she probably will hire policy wonks, but how much will she study?

As Max Weber observed, charismatic leaders play by their own rules. They do not recognize or value competence, and they see their authority residing outside of the realm of every day concerns. Charismatic leaders get into trouble when they become overconfident in the power of their emotional appeal and personality. If Palin wants leadership "cred" she will have to avoid this trap and remember that being a great cheerleader does not mean that voters will let you play the game.

By Joanne B. Ciulla

 |  February 10, 2010; 9:17 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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When I read the title of the article I assumed it was about Obama.

Posted by: shewholives | February 11, 2010 6:54 PM
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You could have been describing Obama---substitute "Obama" for "Palin" and you have the same scenario. The only difference is Palin has more experience---Like you--Obama is just a professor.

Posted by: mplumstead | February 11, 2010 6:12 PM
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Palin does not hold any office or make any policy decisions in this time of crisis. And yes, America is in crisis. Why then, is she the one getting all this attention?

I can certainly think of one politician currently in office making decisions who could really benefit from learning a little humility with regard to some these leadership shortcomings.

Since that appears unlikely to happen however, I guess all the misdirection, smoke and mirrors over Palin will be the 'go to' topic for quite some time.

Posted by: artyanimal2 | February 11, 2010 5:50 PM
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And the beat goes on. MSM trashes Palin. What are they so afraid of?

Posted by: sportsfan2 | February 11, 2010 4:48 PM
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I wonder what the good professor thinks of our President's leadership/charisma imbalance. The Post would never print it, but it would be interesting to hear her thoughts on a politician that actually matters.

It's really unbelievable how much attention the left pays to Palin, and how the character flaws, missteps and hypocrisy they so readily attribute to her can be pointed to in spades in Obama.

When I saw the headline, I thought for sure this was going to be about the ego and narcissism of Barry "you've got me" Obama, and the leadership void present in is Presidency. Never has an American President been so clearly out of his league, but instead we get more breathless obsessing in the Post about a former Governor with a book deal and a talk show.

The Left is clearly terrified of Palin. But I think their fear is misplaced, and it is the Tea Party that truly scares them. The Tea Party is pure grassroots politics, without a leader or spokesman, and hence cannot be readily combated or demonized (a favorite tactic of the Left). Most Tea Partiers (me included) would agree that Palin is a C-level politician, and she has about as much chance of being elected President as Ralph Nader. But it's clear the Left is terrified of her - because in their minds she personifies the grassroots movement they cannot readily define, combat or demonize. So Palin is their surrogate. Of course, it won't matter one iota at the end of the day.

Posted by: mattwalter | February 11, 2010 4:41 PM
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When we need such a thing as a "dept of leadership" I"ll go ask someone at the depr of arrogance. They are in the same building.
Leadership is earned with experience and knowledge and character. You cannot teach it.Some have it ,some dont.
Get a real job.

Posted by: captgrumpy | February 11, 2010 4:32 PM
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obama is not leading but obama has charisma...
he proves your point perfectly...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 11, 2010 4:27 PM
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The good Professor is obviously an expert in no true academic discipline which requires critical thinking...

Posted by: wcmillionairre | February 11, 2010 4:12 PM
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the author is correct, but this quote from Galileo Galilei by Berthold Brecht is on the point. Unhappy is the country that has no hero. Unhappier still is the country that needs a hero!

Posted by: guy11976 | February 11, 2010 3:48 PM
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the author is correct, but this quote from Galileo Galilei by Berthold Brecht. Unhappy is the country that has no hero. Unhappier still is the country that needs a hero!

Posted by: guy11976 | February 11, 2010 3:47 PM
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She had a perfect opportunity to "burnish her creds," an elected leadership position that she simply walked away from. Why should we care about her getting real experience or deepening her understanding of policy issues if she doesn't give a hoot? She is all style and no substance, and she likes it that way. She has deliberately placed herself in a situation where she doesn't have to answer any questions, doesn't have to exercise any responsibility, and doesn't have to live up to any expectations. No wonder she looks good!

Posted by: fmjk | February 11, 2010 3:05 PM
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When I saw the headline of this piece, I thought for sure it was on Obama.

I'm sure this yo-yo writer is a huge fan of Obama, yet when she paraphrased Max Weber with "Charismatic leaders get into trouble when they become overconfident in the power of their emotional appeal and personality," she couldn't see how this applied to her idol.

All America is gripped with fear as they watch Obama thrash about helplessly the past few months, "overconfident in the power of [his] emotional appeal and personality."

Yet this writer has to run down Palin? Not even seeing how it applies so much more monstrously to the EGO we have at 1600 Penn Ave.? Incredible.

Posted by: Meritorious_Soso | February 11, 2010 2:32 PM
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I think Todd Palin last Independence Party membership ended early 2000. When Sara became Mayor of her town of 5,000. But Alaska reported when she was governor she had an "open door" to Independents who were photographed going to and from her home. I believe her father is also of this party. Alaska didnt' call Todd the "first dude" for no reason and he was often accused of running her office as governor. I believe she quit due to future legal bills as Alaska was "going after" Sara. She still could have been impeached for troopergate.
One can depend on she would run things their way. I believe Sara would be faithful to her Independence Party and their beliefs because she is only the prop..they run things.

Posted by: mac7 | February 11, 2010 9:47 AM
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I would be embarrassed to go listen to her.

Every speech she gives is dumber than the last. If you don't know something you sit down and shut up but today besides Sara we have people out there getting tv reality shows. Stupidity and liars have also been been given a forum by the media. I cannot bear to listen to her speak cause its always smirking sneering mocking of someone.

Posted by: mac7 | February 11, 2010 9:28 AM
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Question: Why would a Professor and Chair of a the department of Leadership, lower herself to even suggest Palin would be anything close to being a LEADER? Someone most be paying a lot of money to people like Professor Ciulla to plant these seeds of ridicule thoughts in the minds of American voters.

Posted by: austininc4 | February 10, 2010 10:35 PM
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Ever wonder what it is about the American voters that makes them see Sarah Palin as somebody they "want to be their leader"? I'll tell you - laziness. Sarah Palin broadcasts the message that everything's going to be better than all right, that nobody will have to give up anything or make any tough choices. No sacrifice will be required, even though America is deep in the hole and getting deeper by the day. Who would believe that? A lazy, incurious idiot. Evidently there are quite a few of them, but not as many as their volume would lead you to believe, and certainly not enough to win her the presidency. I'd love to see the conservatives nominate her, but I'm afraid they're smarter than that.

Posted by: marknesop | February 10, 2010 10:10 PM
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If Alaska becomes its own country, that would mean Sarah Palin is now a foreigner on US soil. We could have the joy of deporting her, exiling her, declaring her a security risk. Come to think of it, Todd, go ahead and make Alaska its own country. Anything that helps shut up Sarah Palin might not be such a bad idea.

Posted by: momof20yo | February 10, 2010 6:34 PM
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I admit to being baffled as to why anyone would consider Palin as the potential president of the United States of America.

I do see why the Democratic party would want the Republican party to spend the next two years filling Palin's head and then supporting her - a guaranteed win.

I have been a lifelong middle of the road voter - I can't say "conservative" any longer because the term has been stolen by the far right. I recall being saddened by the Repubs running Dole who wasn't electable, then McCain who wasn't electable - each time I reflected on this and thought they were behaving like Democrats.

We live in a strange country with citizens, especially following the Bush presidency, who would support a candidate who simply isn't very smart. Charismatic? Get a grip :-)

Enough polarization - move back to the center and get the trains, airplanes and buses running on time.

Posted by: GeorgeStephenson | February 10, 2010 4:08 PM
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The other day, on national TV, Sarah Palin said President Obama should toughen up and declare war on Iran. What kind of intelligent thinking is that? What a fruitcake!

Posted by: GenuineRisk | February 10, 2010 2:57 PM
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Thanks Lindarc ! for your Palin is a war-monger and a racist comments ! Maybe MSNBC will invite you onto their show : )

Speaking to 1000 Tea Party Community Organizers, an audience of 240 journalists (including Europeans), with live cable coverage that made the White House envious...
Palin has sharpened both her message and performance.

Her Tea Party remarks provide a blueprint for conservative candidates in 2010.

First, she led with Obama's lack of leadership in the war on terrorism, including Mirandizing Abdulmutallab after 50 minutes and treating terrorism as primarily a law-enforcement matter.

"To win that war we need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law standing at a lectern," she said to a loud ovation.

Second, when asked what were the first things Republicans should do if they regain Congress, Palin emphasized fiscal responsibility and time-honored values: "We've got to rein in the spending, obviously, and not raise it [with] extremely high budgets and then say, okay, we are going to freeze a couple of programs," she said.

Next talking about America's religious heritage, she said America needs to "go back to some of our roots as a God-fearing nation" and elect leaders unafraid "to proclaim their reliance on our Creator."

Democratic consultant Bob Shrum, appearing on MSNBC, denounced all this as essentially hate speech.

This may be Palin's unique strength. She understands the fiscal and values agendas of conservatism are reinforcing, not mutually exclusive.

I read surprisingly accurate and flattering coverage the next day in the Washington Post, The LA Times and The New York Times.

Posted by: pvilso24 | February 10, 2010 2:21 PM
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"Sarah Palin for her comments that President Obama could increase his re-election chances by bombing Iran. This is "frightening".

President's don't declare war. Anybody knows that in high school. Congress has to declare war. "

"...she's an empty vessel ready to be filled by ideology she doesn't understand. And that is really scary."

Palin putting together a poltical team. Fred Malek is perhaps the single Washington establishment figure that Palin turns to for leadership....

Malek's background:

Some facts about Fred Malek, he's backing Palin.....

... it's certain that Palin & Malek said, they're referring to blacks and Latinos as other species. ...

Fred Malek--the notorious "hatchet man" for Richard Nixon who only a few years ago was busted by the SEC for investment fraud.

Malek fits nicely into the circle of corruption that has followed Palin throughout her political career.

Malek palled around with the likes of real terrorists, including H. R. Haldeman, John Erlichman, Charles Colson and E. Howard Hunt.

Malek distinguished himself in the Nixon circles by providing the anti-Semitic president with information about the number of Democrats and "important Jewish officials" working in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nixon was convinced that a "Jewish cabal" had taken over the agency.

Malek,was dubbed "Nixon's Jew counter....

"These moves [removing Jews from the bureau] do not go as far as I would have preferred," Malek wrote in a secret memo to Haldeman"
OK, now Palin is outwardly backing racial discrimination at the Tea gathering. Jim Crow is attempting to come back.

At the Tea gathering, only white, middle aged people were seen. Will this country go back to the old segregation days?? There's no doubt.

Visit Palin's background w/radical behavior:

Her questionable interaction was with the "Alaska Independence Party" (AIP) that wants to make Alaska a Foreign Country- separate from the USA. Palin's husband, Todd, was a LONGTERM member (up until mid 2008) of the AIP until her political career started to take off.

The AIP is part of a network of extreme, often violent, right-wing secessionist groups across the U.S. associated with neo-Confederate, White Power, anti-Semitism and White supremacist ...

Todd and Sarah have both attended several AIP conventions. Sarah has been photographed reading an article by the John Birch Society calling for a NEW Constitutional Convention- which would overthrow our existing US Constitition.

Palin went to GA. and campaigned for Chambliss. Chambliss has used racially loaded, us-versus-them rhetoric in his campaign before. Just prior to Nov. 4th, Chambliss bluntly warned his white base that “the other folks are voting,” adding that the “rush to the polls by African-Americans early” has “got our side energized early, they see what is happening.”

Posted by: lindarc | February 10, 2010 12:27 PM
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