Difference between Charismatic and Transformational Leadership

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Numerous leaders throughout history have demonstrated countless different types of leadership styles. Some of the most well-known leaders when examined have deemed themselves effective in using comprehensive leadership theories such as transformational leadership and charismatic leadership. Two well-known leaders who have displayed these types of leadership are Mao Zedong, leader and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female President of Liberia. Both leaders are considered to be effective, however their leadership styles were particularly different. While Sirleaf used more of a transformational approach to leadership, while Zedong took a more charismatic approach to leadership. Emphasis, the leader and follower, morality and reactions are compared and contrasted based off the leadership styles of the two leaders.

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the official President of Liberia in January of 2006 however her leadership started far before her time as Madame President and carried through to the presidency as a result of her following. Her rise to leadership was not an easy one; she grew up in Liberia and went off to study in the United States. After obtaining her degrees, she returned to her home to work for the treasury; there she was appointed to be the minister of finance. However, her position was not long-lived due to a coup d’état by the former President Doe’s officials. She fled into exile, where she worked for the World Bank in Washington, DC and then returned to Liberia where she was a supporter of the Taylor overthrow of Doe’s leadership. She eventually ran for President and won (Scully, 2016). Mao Zedong was the leader of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party. He was born in the Hunan Province and worked doing hard-labor on his family’s farm until the age of 13, where he then left to go to primary school and secondary school. It is there where he was exposed to different ideas from the rest of the outside world and formulated his value system. Then, he served as a soldier during the revolt and after that he traveled to school after school where he eventually graduated from First Provincial Normal School, where he helped create the student organization “New People’s Study Society.” He later became the ruler of China and ruled during revolts and the Great Leap, as well as many other events in history.

A charismatic leader is someone who is a visionary and has incredible rhetorical skills, as well as shows high levels of personalized power and this power is gained through crisis or task interdependence. (Wren, 108, 2013). This personalized power is translated into characteristics of selfishness, lack of self-control and impulsiveness, among other traits. The followers have their levels of emotions heightened and demonstrate willingness to be subordinates. The followers also have feelings of empowerment as in a lot of different leadership theories. Transformational leaders have more socialized power; they are more service oriented, mature in expression of motive, self-sacrificing, and empowering. The leader lifts the followers to higher levels of morality and motivation all while transforming and changing society (Wren, 100, 2013).

A leader who is considered to have a transformational leadership style is often able to identify problems before they occur and can visualize what her followers needs, and motivations are. Her leadership style was largely influenced by the previous life of those who she was in charge of leading and the previous corrupt government that had led Liberia. Pre-Sirleaf’s presidency, Liberia was in economic turmoil, a state of civil unrest, and overall poorly governed. When she took the oath to become the leader of Liberia, she established a number of social, economic, and political practices that allowed the needs of the citizens of Liberia to be met and taken care of (Scully, 2016). In Transformational Leadership, the wants and needs of the followers are taken into consideration and Sirleaf demonstrated this in a number of different ways. There was far more emphasis on inspiring, developing, and empowering the followers than that of charismatic leader Mao Zedong. For example, Sirleaf is responsible for the women’s empowerment movement in Liberia and a number of other countries that followed by example; she used gender equality as means to improve African development (Scully, 2016). Using his method of leadership [charismatic leadership], there was more of an emphasis on personal identification with the leader. This is most clearly seen through the conversion to communism ideals that Mao brought with him during his time in office. He used his power to allow his followers, mainly those citizens that were impoverished and would find this idea of communism to be more beneficial, to identify with his value systems. Ever since the May Fourth Movement occurred, he believed in a cultural revolution in which he greatly believed would solve the problems in China (Spence, 2016). This is a trait that is seen in that of charismatic leaders and one aspect where the two leaders differ greatly. This is not to say that Mao did not seek to inspire and empower his followers at all, but the intentions behind the emphasis was far different from that of Sirleaf’s. His sole purpose was to make sure that communism would integrate its way into the Chinese government, not to ensure that the people he would lead would be the most successful. Sirleaf’s intentions were to help the people of Liberia out of their state of turmoil and improve the overall status of her country.

As far as dependency on the leader goes, both of their groups of followers depended on the leaders heavily but in different ways. However, Mao’s followers were more dependent on him and could be classified as (based on Kellerman’s model) diehards or isolate. This was because of his harsh polarization of China. The people of China were either for Mao or against him and there was no grey area between. This can be seen through countless examples; one main one being his classicide of wealthy land owners who opposed communism and his set of values. Those who were diehards for Mao were willing to do whatever it took for him, including committing mass genocide against the upper class. This polarization can also be seen through the example of the firing a reporter/journalist who had written about opposing the ideas that went against Mao. This intense and extreme reactions that are demonstrated throughout Mao’s time in a leadership role prove that his charismatic leadership is far different from that of Sirleaf’s. Sirleaf, on the other hand, had far less polarization and less extreme reactions during her presidency. There was civil unrest, yet she found ways to bring the people of Liberia together, by finding commonalities between the people and allowing these relationships to prosper with her aid. By helping her followers to become more self-sustaining it eliminated some of their dependence on her, which allowed for her to focus on decreasing the large debt that Liberia was in. Mao and Sirleaf’s followers were both dependent on their leaders, yet the way that they were dependent, again, is far different from that of one another. These differences between charismatic and transformational leadership are evident through these two leaders.

In transformational leadership, the leader seeks to make sure that moral ground is first and foremost; moral ground matters. While on the opposite side of this, with charismatic leadership morality is a thing that has no bearing; moral ground does not matter.     

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Difference Between Charismatic And Transformational Leadership. (2021, May 23). Retrieved December 1, 2022 , from

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