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From a Behavioral Toward an Interactional Theory of Charisma in Organizations
Unformatted Document Text:  Student Paper Interactional Theory of Charisma 6 Weber is clear in his discussion of charisma that it is understood by common people as an unexplainable “gift” bestowed upon a leader. His definition of charisma reflects this interpretation: The term ‘charisma’ will be applied to 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 power or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as a exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader… What is alone important is how the individual is actually regarded by those subject to charismatic authority, his ‘followers’ or ‘disciples’ (1947, pp. 358-359). In this passage, Weber explains his conception of verstehen, or an emic perspective on how the charismatic leader is regarded. Obviously, behavioral theorizations of charisma attempt to answer one side of this process. They focus on the specific actions of the leader, not on how she is regarded by her followers. It is easy to see how charisma has been theorized as a behavioral quality. Behavioral definitions of charisma have staying power based on an understanding of charisma as a “quality of individual personality.” Conger and Kanungo (1987) trace the meaning of the word ‘charisma’ to the writing of St. Paul in his description of the ‘gift’ of the holy spirit, a gift allowing its recipients to perform extraordinary feats (Conger, Kanungo, Menon, & Mathur, 1997). For Weber, the “ideal type” of charismatic leader is found in religion. In an extensive analysis of the religious movements founded by Martin Luther and John Calvin (1992) Weber examines the display of an unprecedented quality by these leaders to mobilize followers in a revolution directed at the Catholic Church of the middle ages. Modern scholars have

Authors: Leonardi, Paul.
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Student Paper Interactional Theory of Charisma 6
Weber is clear in his discussion of charisma that it is understood by common people as an
unexplainable “gift” bestowed upon a leader. His definition of charisma reflects this
interpretation:
The term ‘charisma’ will be applied to 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
power or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person,
but are regarded as of divine origin or as a exemplary, and on the basis of them
the individual concerned is treated as a leader… What is alone important is how
the individual is actually regarded by those subject to charismatic authority, his
‘followers’ or ‘disciples’ (1947, pp. 358-359).
In this passage, Weber explains his conception of verstehen, or an emic perspective on how the
charismatic leader is regarded. Obviously, behavioral theorizations of charisma attempt to
answer one side of this process. They focus on the specific actions of the leader, not on how she
is regarded by her followers. It is easy to see how charisma has been theorized as a behavioral
quality. Behavioral definitions of charisma have staying power based on an understanding of
charisma as a “quality of individual personality.” Conger and Kanungo (1987) trace the meaning
of the word ‘charisma’ to the writing of St. Paul in his description of the ‘gift’ of the holy spirit,
a gift allowing its recipients to perform extraordinary feats (Conger, Kanungo, Menon, &
Mathur, 1997). For Weber, the “ideal type” of charismatic leader is found in religion. In an
extensive analysis of the religious movements founded by Martin Luther and John Calvin (1992)
Weber examines the display of an unprecedented quality by these leaders to mobilize followers
in a revolution directed at the Catholic Church of the middle ages. Modern scholars have


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