Autocratic-Charismatic Leadership: Napoleon Bonaparte
As one thinks of Apple, the face of Steve Jobs instinctively comes to mind. The same is true for most of the other large corporations and political powers around the globe. Leaders seem to be the primary representatives and voices of organizations. The topic of leadership has become exceptionally popular in the last couple of decades as more research surrounding the subject was being released. After all, whether a leader is good at what they do or not can make or break any chance of success any company has, even the most well-admired and innovative one. It is possible to outline several key leadership styles which people tend to espouse when acting as leaders in their organizations. Charismatic and autocratic leadership styles remain the two most prevalent ones to this day, but they emerged a substantial period of time ago, and the example of Napoleon shows that they both can coexist together. Charismatic leadership is the most efficient and appropriate style for modern leaders globally since it enables them to unite people and develop solutions to potential issues, which might arise either within an organization or externally.
Prior to discussing the advantages of charismatic leadership in comparison to other styles, particularly autocratic leadership, it is imperative to define what charismatic and autocratic leadership styles are. Moreover, it is essential to clearly outline the core aim of leadership in organizations or in any type of group of people. The main task of leadership is to “create and manage culture… and destroy culture when it is viewed as dysfunctional” when referring to organizations (as cited in Rivers, 2019, p. 69). Essentially, the role of a leader is interconnected with the notion of culture, which they must influence in a variety of ways to ensure that it corresponds to the interests of the organization. The titles of leaders vary across different groups of people, be it a CEO of a corporation or a coach of a sports team, but in all circumstances, they have to achieve success (Roe, 2017). Thus, it can be said that by employing a certain leadership style, people ultimately choose the tool with which they will create an environment conducive to the achievement of success.
As mentioned above, the two most common approaches to leadership are the charismatic and autocratic ones which have distinct features making them not only different by also unique. Charismatic leadership refers to the authority of a leader, which derives primarily from their charisma and charm that are used as tools for motivating their followers. Charismatic leaders have been described in different terms, including as capable of motivating the subordinates to spouse passion and commitment to a collective mission (Banks et al., 2017). Essentially, charismatic leaders can produce a message which can inspire others to follow their orders and be motivated to perform them. Such leaders can appeal to certain values which are relevant for the members of a group and rely on them as the foundation for their mission.
At the same time, there are also autocratic leaders whose qualities are radically different compared to those charismatic ones. An autocratic leader differs from others as he or she exercises “a controlling and directive leadership model, which engages subordinates or followers according to an established hierarchical structure” (Rivers, 2019, p. 71). Thus, an autocratic leader motivates others to pursue a mission not by inspiring them but by persuading them to believe in the leader’s ability to make correct decisions in every situation. An autocratic leader may allocate some decision-making responsibilities to other people, but their opinion will still be the most crucial for the organization in every major matter. One of the negative sides of autocratic leadership is the unwillingness of the leader to accept criticism from their followers (Rivers, 2019). Any type of critical perspective may threaten the authority of the leader, and therefore, it is avoided, which can harm the group or organization.
Benefits of Charismatic Leadership
Charismatic leadership is the most appropriate leadership style to use due to its many advantages, which autocratic leadership cannot provide. The openness of charismatic leaders enables them to be willing to solve the existing challenges in a fast way. For instance, research shows that charismatic leaders are much more efficient at managing emergencies in comparison to autocratic ones (Meriade & Sales, 2020). Every organization or group of people at some point may encounter a difficult situation which will require fast decision-making. Charismatic leaders can solve the problem faster because they are ready to listen to the feedback of the subordinates who, in their turn, always possess insights into their particular field of expertise. Depending on the situation at hand, charismatic leaders can quickly adapt to the circumstances and find the ultimate solution by receiving proper advice from their followers. Autocratic leaders are much less likely to ask their subordinates for any kind of recommendation, which slows down their decision-making process and worsens its quality.
Another advantage of charismatic leadership is closely connected to the previous one and concerns the perception of power and its aspects. Autocratic leaders are much less likely to address the intricacies of ethical implications of exercising power rather than charismatic leaders (Rivers, 2019). In other words, charismatic leaders understand that they cannot simply govern the people they work with from the position of absolute power. Instead, they build structures where group members can communicate with the leader freely, which eradicates the problem of a negative perception of the leader. Essentially, such an arrangement can be described as power-sharing, which promotes joint decision-making encompassing the perspectives of all members (Rivers, 2019). Thus, as opposed to autocratic leadership, which implies strict hierarchy and a directive way of interacting with the subordinates, the charismatic one can be characterized as more ethical.
Finally, the charismatic way of leadership is based on providing followers with a motivation which has a positive effect on them, as opposed to the autocratic one, which relies on pressure. While the primary tools for autocratic leaders to ensure subordination are fear, for instance, of losing one’s job, the main mechanism behind charismatic leadership is simply motivation. As a result, a charismatic leader can inspire followers by causing them to experience followership-relevant emotions, which further promote prosocial behavior, thus motivating people to work for the benefit of the organization (Sy et al., 2019). Basically, in the presence of charismatic leadership, people enjoy their responsibilities and are naturally committed to them because they find it rewarding, including in terms of emotions. Thus, charismatic leadership promotes better job satisfaction and the ability of subordinates to relate to the mission of the organization.
Charismatic Leadership: The Case of Success
Napoleon Bonaparte serves as a great example to demonstrate both the advantages of charismatic leadership and the downsides of autocratic leadership. Napoleon Bonaparte was a unique individual who, to this day, remains a controversial historical personality partially due to his leadership approach. On the one hand, Napoleon led a huge army of able-bodied and minded men, yet they were overly dependent on their leader since he chose not to share his tactics with anyone (Meriade & Sales, 2020). Essentially, Napoleon demonstrated clear traits characteristic of autocratic leaders, which is the unwillingness to discuss his decisions with other people, no matter how skilled or competent they are. Although any army requires a well-established structure and hierarchy, the leaders always tend to cooperate together to devise joint plans. Napoleon espoused an unconventional approach, the one which implied solely and independently exercising full control over the army. Such a method can certainly be considered autocratic, and it is possible that it contributed to a negative view of Napoleon among the higher military ranks.
At the same time, despite being autocratic in certain aspects, Napoleon also utilized the principles of charismatic leadership, which manifested themselves in several forms. Bonaparte managed to constantly motivate and engage his soldiers using his charm and charisma, which were recognized by many of his contemporaries, including Hegel (Meriade & Sales, 2020). Napoleon possessed a character which enabled him to convey a message in such a way which would be inspiring and engaging and capable of making people empathize with the mission outlined by their leader. Moreover, as research shows, Napoleon had always had his charisma, even during the time when he had no power at his disposal. For instance, in a coup d’état in 1799, he was able to replace the French Directory with Consulate despite being only a general (Ohnesorge, 2020). Essentially, Napoleon has always utilized the appeal of his character to persuade people to abide by his command.
Despite the aforementioned strengths of the charismatic style and weaknesses of the autocratic style, there is a notion that the selection of the right leadership approach depends greatly on the environment. The idea was understood by Napoleon, and he mastered the art of espousing different ways of leadership to appeal to as many people as possible. Research shows that demographics should factor in the decision to adopt whichever style of leadership, even in spheres such as hotel management (Uzunsaf Yamak & Zihni Eyüpoğlu, 2018). Napoleon was not only a great military commander but also an Emperor, which meant that he had to be both excellent at managing an army and the population. As a result, his approach involved being strict and autocratic in the cases of military action while being charismatic in public, in front of his soldiers and citizens.
Charismatic Leadership: Hard Facts to Accept
Despite a variety of benefits to adopting a charismatic leadership approach, it may not always be the right choice. As mentioned previously, in certain situations, autocratic leadership can be a better alternative, while charisma may actually interfere with performance. According to studies, charismatic leaders are more likely to possess such qualities as narcissism and a sense of entitlement, which can lead to their judgments being somewhat clouded (Ma, 2018). In other words, having a well-developed charisma may cause the person’s ego to grow, which can make them too be too confident in their decisions. At the same time, it is possible that when a charismatic leader begins to ignore the ideas shared by others and prevents them from participating in joint decision-making, they start acting autocratically. Essentially, there is always a risk that charisma can become a source of excessive arrogance and pride which also correlate with autocratic leadership qualities. In such cases, the leader needs to reassess their behavior and correct it in order to avoid losing the trust of the followers.
There are also specific scenarios where charismatic leaders can become problematic and may need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the organization. Charismatic leadership may negatively impact succession since there is only a frail possibility that the successors of a charismatic leader will be as effective (Radtke, 2020). The problem of succession is common in companies which are undergoing a generational change in their management. For example, a charismatic leader may be the CEO of a company and, after their resignation, their children who do not possess the same charisma can occupy their position. In many cases, the child will attempt to mimic the leadership style of their parent, but such a strategy may not yield any positive results simply due to the lack of trust on the part of employees. Thus, companies should not become too dependent on charismatic leaders in order to avoid problems with succession.
Furthermore, the behavior of a leader might not be a factor capable of significantly improving or in any affecting the performance of an organization. According to the research of Jansen and Delahaij (2019), group dynamics and contextual factors are often determinants of who the majority accepts as their leader. In other words, a formal leader, for instance, a CEO of a company, may not actually be perceived as such by their subordinates. In fact, embracing a charismatic or autocratic leadership style will not help them to become a person who everyone views as their leader. Instead, the group may randomly assign the role of an informal leader to one of the employees. Nevertheless, such cases are rare, and they are often symptomatic of various conflicts existing in the organization and, therefore, the solution must be found not in the leadership approach but elsewhere.
Charismatic leadership is clearly effective at responding to the modern-day challenges organizations will most likely face. Charismatic leaders are able to motivate those around them without abusing their power, which is the case when referring to the proponents of the autocratic style. As a result, those united around a charismatic leader are more likely to remain loyal to them. Charismatic leadership is crucial for modern-fay organizations as they face unpredictable challenges regularly, while this style of leadership, in particular, facilitates an efficient response to emergencies and critical situations, unlike an autocratic one. However, it is crucial to recognize contextual factors, demographics, and group dynamics might play a more important role in selecting a leader rather than their personal characteristics or the preferences they express either towards an autocratic style or a charismatic one. Organizations worldwide should invest more resources into hiring and training a new generation of charismatic leaders if they want to ensure the long-term success of their teams.
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