Charisma, mojo, zing – mysterious factor of authority


First of all, before we even start this bloggy/workshopy thing of ours I need to clarify major question – what is charisma? Apparently we can take two main approaches to this term. First, on which we won’t be deliberating much – charisma as supernatural gift of some specific ability. I respect beliefs about this kind of understanding of “charisma”, but if we agree that I can’t teach you about how to acquire grace… Well, then it isn’t much of a productive topic for us, right? What interest us though has it’s roots in this theological explanation. It’s Rudolph Sohm work on church history that inspired one of the greatest sociologist that human kind had produced – Max Weber. He brought the term to a secular level where we can question it, root it in reality we can perceive and try to explain it. This “charisma” is still a mysterious factor that sets apart charismatic leaders from “ordinary people”, but we can apply some sort of scientific method. It is then main part of Weber’s charismatic authority which in it’s purest state in non-traditional, non-rational, and non-bureaucratic.

What does this mean is there’s some “thing” or set of factors, that under certain conditions (we can assume) will made us do things, and rely on norms that we wouldn’t normally do/rely on. It is as exciting as scary if you think about it. On the one hand a call to action – patriotic, philanthropic, productive or positive in any way – can be executed by simply persuading people using this mysterious “mojo”. On the other hand it means that we are vulnerable of being manipulated by the same “zing” factor to do some frightening things. Sadly, social and political scientists were unable to find compelling explanation what charisma is made of. It appears that my comment on deliberating about theological discussion back-fires in my face. Our ignorance about the source of this “uncanny influence” (yes, I found it in whole monograph about charismatic authority) after many years from Max Weber work is still simply embarrassing.

Let’s analyze charisma then, search for some clues. Firstly the kind of authority it has to provide is non-rational. Also it has to be awe inspiring (as from charismatic authority is required for people to recognize ones “charisma” and by that give him authority, so it will be non-traditional/bureaucratic) and – since it creates authority at all – it has to be some sort of dominance projection. It appears to me, that our good, old charisma is a one clever model of communication that separates emotional control of perceived information from rational thinking. And as we know the elements that communication is made of we can design such model, apply and test it. Better, if my hypothesis is true we can rely on past experiences in our research, and that much quicker get to the right combination of incorporated or created techniques in communicating and making conditions favorable for our “uncanny influence” to take place.

To further clarify charisma related terms we could state something like this: Charismatic authority is a system of replacing uncertainty and fear with positive feelings towards leader and his normative values to such extent, that one is willing to act upon his word. Charisma then is a communication model able to display non-rational dominance of leader and his values over ones perception of reality by decoupling decision making from rational conflict monitoring of listeners brain.

Now some of you could ask few interesting questions: Is charisma even real? Could it be, that we label charisma on combination of factors like leader attractiveness, social expectations, crisis, coincidence and so on, that interact with each other in way we don’t understand? It could be, that charismatic leadership requires some sort of crisis or coincidence, but that doesn’t exclude strong possibility that charismatic model of communication exists. Another interesting question: Even if charisma exist, is it possible to design such model that will be recurrent in its results? There is always a possibility, but yes, we should have in our mind that peoples preferences are ever-changing and always mysterious. We could end up with model that works perfectly only on one brain in one static moment. But, we know already, that emotional circuity is pretty much identical in every human. If we could work on those general principles we would end up with charisma which is ever-adapting to new social conditions, and has influence on widest spectrum of society possible.

As you can already see, magnitude of possible questions is pretty amazing. In upcoming articles we will wander through vast and various world of insights related to charisma so at the end we could ourselves more charismatic and influential.

You must know that charisma, social mojo, and zing – our “uncanny influence” and persuasion in general is something for what I went into political science in the first place. My approach to charisma as a communication model is ongoing research project, and this perspective may change overtime. Any critical opinions, advice, and discussion is something I’m really looking forward to.

Take good care

– Przemek Kucia

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