One critique of charismatic leadership theory is that it is difficult to define charisma, let alone identify which traits make someone a charismatic leader. To address this, organizational psychologist Tom Sy and his colleagues Calen Horton and Ronald Riggio conducted a study in 2018 that suggested emotion is the prominent variable in achieving charisma.10
Sy, Horton, and Riggio hypothesized that the effectiveness of charismatic leadership lies in the fact that these leaders elicit powerful emotions within their followers. By exhibiting a positive attitude and emotional orientation, people identify charisma within a leader: they feel awe and admiration, causing them to trust these leaders. “Awe” and “admiration,” in turn, are part of a larger type of emotional response – moral emotions – which regulate an individual’s behavior. So, Sy, Horton, and Riggio deduced that it is by triggering an emotional response that charismatic leaders influence others and gain legitimate authority.10
Through their analysis of charismatic leadership theory, Sy, Horton, and Riggio came up with a five-step process through which charismatic leadership becomes effective10:
- Leader Emotion Elicitation
Leaders use their communication skills to elicit targeted emotions. Depending on the leader’s goal, the emotions they hope to arouse can differ. For example, someone trying to mobilize a protest would need to elicit feelings of anger; someone trying to sell a product would need to elicit trust.
- Follower Emotion Response
If charismatic leaders are successful in stage one, followers will feel the elicited emotions.
- Leader Channeling Behaviors
Leaders act to ensure that the emotions felt by their followers lead to action. They transfer those emotions into actions for their followers to take.
- Follower Action
If leaders have successfully channelled their followers’ emotions, their followers will take action.
- Action outcomes
The final stage is the resolution of charismatic leadership. It encompasses what happens as a result of the followers’ actions, and if they were successful in bringing about the leader’s goals.
By proposing a method through which charismatic leadership functions, Sy, Horton and Riggio hoped to understand why charismatic leadership is effective, and provide a means through which to measure the success of this leadership style.10