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Healthcare Crisis and Transformational Leadership

Larry Barnes, for HealthLeaders Media, October 10, 2008

During the early part of the 20th century, Max Weber proposed the concept of charisma. Several components of Weber's concept are that charismatic leaders have outstanding traits and skills, they arise during times of crisis, they propose and support extreme solutions to crises, followers are attracted to charismatic leaders because of the inspiration they receive through their relationship with such leaders, and charismatic leaders' gifts are validated through successful experiences. Several personality characteristics are associated with charismatic leaders, including:

  1. They are expressive verbally and physically.
  2. They exhibit self-confidence.
  3. They are self-directed.
  4. They have insight into the needs of their followers and have the ability to use these needs to persuade followers.
  5. They are free of internal conflict.
  6. They are eloquent speakers.

Crises, such as anticipated in the healthcare industry, have been defined as situations that lead to the emergence of charismatic leaders who provide salvation to the people in crisis. People in crisis feel that they have lost control and charismatic leaders bring solutions and order. Successful, stable organizations might not need charismatic leadership. Conversely, failing organizations that must change to survive often need charismatic leadership, and crises need not be chronic to support a charismatic leader.

The followers of charismatic leaders seek fulfillment by association with their leader. By identifying with the leader, these followers can satisfy psychological needs. To gain the leader's approval, the followers meet the leader's high expectations and standards. A sense of responsibility is created by the leader's confidence in the followers.

Inspiration. Inspirational leaders motivate workers to go beyond self-interest. This ability is based on the leaders' capability of communicating a vision that motivates workers. Workers' acceptance of the vision expressed by inspirational leaders is essential. Workers must want to attain the vision, and the desire will change the workers' focus from daily concerns to a vision that stimulates their best efforts. Workers believe that inspirational leaders are:

  • Sensitive, enlightened, and knowledgeable. Generate pride in the organization.
  • Demonstrate high levels of activity, self-confidence, and determination.
  • Have a sense of mission.
  • Have expectations for high levels of performance.

An important ability for inspirational leaders is conveying the meaning of the organization's vision. These leaders can provide meaning with comparisons to competitors, ideals, goals, the past, traits, and other stakeholders. Inspirational leaders also might use symbols and slogans to help convey meaning, which can be useful for simplifying complex messages.

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