Why do we respond to charismatic leaders?

by on May 15, 2014 at 2:37 am in Economics, History, Music, Political Science, Religion, Sports, Television | Permalink

There is a new paper by Benjamin Hermalin, with the intriguing title “At the Helm, Kirk or Spock? Why Even Wholly Rational Actors May Favor and Respond to Charismatic Leaders.”  The abstract runs like this:

When a leader makes a purely emotional appeal, rational followers realize she is hiding bad news. Despite such pessimism and even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, rational followers’ efforts are nonetheless greater when an emotional appeal is made by a more rather than less charismatic leader. Further, they tend to prefer more charismatic leaders. Although organizations can do better with more charismatic leaders, charisma is a two-edged sword: more charismatic leaders will tend to substitute charm for real action, to the organization’s detriment. This helps explain the literature’s “mixed report card” on charisma.

Here is what actually drives the argument:

As shown below, a savvy leader makes an emotional appeal when “just the facts” provide followers too little incentive and, conversely, makes a rational appeal when the facts “speak for themselves.” Followers (at least rational ones) will, of course, understand this is how she behaves. In particular, the rational ones—called “sober responders”—will form pessimistic beliefs about the productivity state upon hearing an emotional appeal. But how pessimistic depends on how charismatic the leader is. Because a more charismatic leader is more inclined to make an emotional appeal ceteris paribus, sober responders are less pessimistic about the state when a more charismatic leader makes an emotional appeal than when a less charismatic leader does [emphasis added]. So, even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, sober (rational) responders work harder in equilibrium in response to an emotional appeal from a more charismatic leader than in response to such an appeal from a less charismatic leader.

Would this same reasoning also imply we should choose intrinsically panicky leaders, because then, if we see them panic, we would think the real underlying situation isn’t so bad after all and we are simply witnessing their innate propensity to panic? Yet no one would buy that version of the argument.

I will instead suggest that we (sometimes) follow charismatic leaders because they have high social intelligence, and most of all because other people are inclined to follow them.  Some of those followers of course do not have rational expectations but rather they are touched by the charisma directly.  Given that, why not follow the focal leader, even if you yourself are not touched by the charisma?

A related question is to ask how many recent world leaders are in fact charismatic.  Obama and Clinton yes, but how about David Cameron?  How about most Prime Ministers of Japan, Abe being a possible exception?  Arguably Merkel has become charismatic through a sort of extreme, cultivated anti-charisma, but I would not cite her in favor of the theory.  Any Canadian since Trudeau?  Helmut Kohl?

Putin?  Well, he’s not charismatic to me but now we’re getting somewhere.  And what does Putin have that say Prime Ministers of Japan do not?  Could it be a citizenry that gets excited relatively easily by the brutish?  Come to think of it, the USA has a wee bit of excitability of its own, though more about national pride and foreign policy than anything like Putin.  Hint: does your theory predict that Argentina will have charismatic leaders relative to Denmark?  Yes or no?

In which business sectors are the CEOs most likely to be charismatic?

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Addendum: Hermalin responds here.

1 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 3:53 am

Netanyahu would be the most obvious example today over the last couple of decades.

2 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 5:31 am

Question: “Why do we respond to charismatic leaders?”

Because we label leaders who we respond well to as charismatic!

3 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 6:20 am

Nah, it’s not really that circular. People recognize leadership traits quickly and early. It’s actually less helpful to focus upon famous world leaders vs. other famous world leaders because they are all above the 95th percentile. Jimmy Carter wasn’t quite as talented at leadership as Ronald Reagan, but he’d blow away most people.

4 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 6:26 am

I spent a week at a scientific conference once where one of the papers was about a study where college students picked out better than random which West Point cadets made general just from their yearbook pictures.

But our group was remarkably disorganized when we went on tourist excursions because nobody would take charge and tell everyone when to meet back at the bus. Then one of the coeds who was helping out with the conference brought along on an outing her square-jawed boyfriend, who looked exactly like the highest potential West Point cadets in the study. Immediately all the middle-aged scientists started following this 20-year-old guy around and completely agreeing to whatever plans he’d come up with.

The Air Force used to give a test of Officer potential that included a variety of biographical questions, many of which had to do with playing sports, especially bloodsports. They had to drop it because women and city kids did poorly on it, but it really did help pick out leaders.

5 F. Lynx Pardinus May 15, 2014 at 7:34 am

I’m confused as to the moral of this story. You brought in a guy whose college major was basically “how to lead people around” and then seemed to think that it was innate or biographical that he had actually learned some skills from his coursework and training.

6 careless May 15, 2014 at 8:52 am

He never said what his major was. He said what it looked like

7 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 6:30 am

Orson Welles explained how he was what the French call a King actor: he had to play the highest ranking person on stage. Otherwise, the audience couldn’t follow the plot because they’d assume Orson must be in charge.

8 Aidan May 18, 2014 at 2:55 am

Charisma is the ability to change people’s understanding of what they want.

A charismatic salesperson is one who can convince you that you already want product X. A charismatic politician is one who can convince you that you already support policy Y. Human preferences (appetities, fears, etc.) can be organized in a more or less rational way, but they remain ultimately emotional in nature, so it makes sense to change them using an emotional message. It also makes sense for rational actors to support charismatic politicians because they know that such leaders will be able to increase their satisfaction with a particular state of political affairs not simply by enacting particular policies that those actors support, but also by increasing those actors’ support for their other policies. Sometimes Mohammad can go to the mountain, but often it’s a lot easier if the mountain comes to Mohammad.

On this understanding, Putin would be a charismatic leader if he were capable of convincing significant numbers of Russians who were previously unaware of the fact that they consider Crimea to be an integral part of the Russian body politic over which other powers should not hold sway.

9 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 3:54 am
10 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 3:57 am

“In which business sectors are the CEOs most likely to be charismatic?”

Multi-level marketing?


11 Ray Lopez May 15, 2014 at 4:03 am

In the Philippines, the Marcos clan (son named “Bam Bam”, ironically, his wife and I think his daughter, all elected politicians) is still going strong, since Filipinos respect power the way Russians do. Branding and the speculations of the paper TC references are the reasons. Roosevelt, Clinton and Bush “brands” are analogs in the USA.

12 dearieme May 15, 2014 at 4:11 am

“Obama and Clinton yes”: or, for me, in the case of Clinton, “no”. He exudes anti-charisma in my eyes. I loath Tony Blair too, but then he’s also bonkers which I take it Clinton isn’t.

By the by, you are being sexist by using “Clinton” to refer to Slick Willie rather than Hellary, aren’t you? Or, I suppose, “genderist”.

13 Jan May 15, 2014 at 6:40 am

Do Brits generally find an American southern accent annoying? For some Americans the accent can imply a person is not so smart, but it is also disarming and approachable.

14 Adrian Ratnapala May 15, 2014 at 6:53 am

Depends on the details of the accent. The most charming American accents are southern, and so are the most irritating. Clinton sounds like neither. He sounds like a slick, dishonest lawyer.

15 dearieme May 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

No; I think Adrian has it right. Also, I am puzzled that it can ever work, this approach of boasting of how charming and oily you can be. It’s a bit like French diplomats boasting that they’ll always diddle you – how can it be successful?

Anyway, for calibration: neither Carter’s accent nor W’s seem at all annoying to me – I rather like them. The accents, I mean.

16 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 4:13 am

David Maraniss’s exhaustive 2011 biography of Obama’s first 25 years makes clear that few found him charismatic before he got to Harvard Law School. He wasn’t the leader of his dopesmoking ‘Choom Gang in high school, he was a benchwarmer on his high school basketball team, and barely anybody noticed him at Columbia. (Maraniss found a classmate who had known both Obama and George Stephanopolous at Columbia: the future newsman made a much larger impression than the future President.) Obama’s best friend at Occidental and then at Columbia (after they transferred together) is now the PR guy for the Veterinarians Association in Sacramento, which wouldn’t seem all that unexpected a fate for the young Obama.

I think what happened was that Obama eventually aced the LSAT, so that when he got to Harvard Law School at age 26 he was quick quickly treated as a potential First Black President, and he blossomed under the attention. An entertainment lawyer named Jackie Fuchs, who used to play bass in the 1970s rock band The Runaways, was his classmate and she watched his sometimes awkward transition. It reminded her a lot of how her former bandmate Joan Jett had willed herself into being a rock star:


17 Ray Lopez May 15, 2014 at 4:16 am

Your last paragraph shows me that your flights of fancy have a way of becoming facts in your mind. You are kooky SS. Willed himself says SS. Those were also the Fuhrer’s words and one of his big themes (“willpower” as a means to achieve anything).

18 dearieme May 15, 2014 at 4:58 am

“I think what happened was that Obama eventually aced the LSAT”: happily he must have done the test himself – it would be just too difficult to find a “ringer” to send in to take the exam. And anyway, he’s no Kennedy.

19 So Much for Subtlety May 15, 2014 at 5:10 am

His transcripts remain sealed. I don’t think he aced it. You usually can get any American who did well at any test to boast about their SAT scores much less their LSATs. Not Obama. He keeps his test scores very much to himself.

20 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 6:08 am

We know that Obama only applied to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford law schools. He didn’t seem to see any need for a safety school. That jibes with a researcher who looked up some old records in the Library of Congress of LSAT scores by race by undergraduate college by year. Two blacks from Columbia scored at the 98th percentile in Obama’s year, and then there was a long fall to the next highest scoring black from Columbia. It’s not unreasonable to guess that Obama was one of the two at the 98th percentile. That’s not proof, but it seems pretty likely to me.

21 Dan Weber May 15, 2014 at 9:14 am

It’s completely believable that Obama scored well on the LSAT. Here is a sample test: http://www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/jd-docs/sampleptjune.pdf It’s mostly the ability to do logic in a well-defined problem space.

22 Dan Weber May 15, 2014 at 9:47 am

Incidentally, does “Obama scored in the 98th percentile” mean he scored in the 98th percentile of the population, or the 98th percentile of LSAT takers?

If the former, he’d only have to score in (hand-wavey) the top 10 or 20 percent of LSAT takers.

23 errorr May 15, 2014 at 11:09 am

Dan Weber,

LSAT percentile would be percentile of test takers over a moving average. The scoring was greatly refined a few years later and the new test gives alot more granularity for the top 5% than was available back then based on the scoring system.

Also, the LSAT has been exclusively verbal logic based that tests reading comprehension and logic only. It is still pretty common to have low/lower GPA high LSAT students admitted to law schools (myself included). I knew a guy who did very well at Georgetown even though he had a 2.0 undergraduate GPA from George Mason.

24 careless May 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

How does a guy with a high LSAT think that “alot” is a word?

25 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 4:19 am

There are different kinds of charisma and not all make somebody a natural leader of men (e.g., Michael Jackson had charisma but not leadership charisma). But Netanyahu is a pretty standard example of leadership charisma. He’s masculine, good-looking, large, quick-witted, arrogant, combative, and strong-willed.

The U.S. Congress gave him 29 standing ovations the last time he deigned to address him. The Republican brass wouldn’t mind running for President in 2016 if they could figure out a way around the Constitution.

26 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 4:42 am

Isn’t the whole thing rather circular. Don’t we define charismatic largely by what attributes make people follow you?

27 Axa May 15, 2014 at 5:14 am

Exactly, Steve is not defining the archetype of charismatic leader. He’s only telling what makes Mr. Netanyahu different from the rest of mortals.

28 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:36 am

Netanyahu has a variety of stereotypical traits commonly held by leaders, probably more such traits than most leaders, which has allowed him to stay near the top for a long time in a highly competitive public arena. (Israel is a country where a lot of top talent goes into politics.)

For example, compare Netanyahu to Putin. Netanyahu has Putin beat in height, looks, and war record. And Putin knows he has to work hard to seem like a natural leader.

29 Axa May 15, 2014 at 7:34 am

I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger is a black swan 😉

30 Axa May 15, 2014 at 7:40 am

I think your list of “stereotyipical traits commonly held by leaders” are the features encountered in the leaders you like. Care to compare your list to the some Latin America president, any leader from Africa, a successful celebrity in Bollywood and why not Angela Merkel or Oprah?

31 ap May 16, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I thought he was a black plowman.

32 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:24 am

Sure, but we can see which attributes tend to be shared in common by leaders considered charismatic.

These traits are fairly obvious and stand out pretty quickly. I can remember seeing Netanyahu on TV for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991 when he was Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.: intense and hyper-articulate. My wife and I turned to each other, and remarked to the effect that he probably has quite a future.

In contrast, Obama’s charisma derives largely from people perceiving him as the first black President. Maraniss’s biography was a complete flop on the marketplace because it’s devoted only to the years before Obama figured out the First Black President thing. From 18 to 24, his acquaintances didn’t see him as black, they described him to Maraniss as “international” or “multicultural.” Obama didn’t make any black friends in New York City from age 20 through 24. Most of his friends were rich South Asians. His main girlfriend was the daughter of the #2 man in Australia’s version of the CIA.

On the other hand, David Remnick’s biography of Obama “The Bridge” concentrates on him from Harvard Law School onward. It’s chock full of rich white people telling Remnick things like, “I went home and told my husband I’ve just met the First Black President.”

If Obama hadn’t decided to be black at age 24, he’d still have done okay in life, maybe an editor at a literary fiction publisher or a high ranking official in the American embassy in Jakarta. But nobody would have called him charismatic.

33 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 5:28 am

What percent of leaders do people think are not charismatic? Sincere question.

34 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:46 am

The Daleys in Chicago did not rule by personal charisma, but by being the guys the other players could agree on would divvy up the loot. Part of the deal was that the Daleys not preen themselves, at least not within the city limits.

Obama found the Power inherent in the office of mayor of Chicago charismatic: hence his bizarre quest to move to Chicago as a grown-up and become Mayor, which proved a far more difficult proposition for him than becoming President.

35 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 5:41 am

So who are US presidents you consider charismatic? Let’s get a gold standard here.

36 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:49 am

Teddy Roosevelt was a hypomanic with enormous energy who was President while still young and in his prime. He had a variety of oddities that he overcame through will and intelligence.

37 Dan Weber May 15, 2014 at 9:16 am

Circular doesn’t have to mean incorrect.

The sober followers can recognize situations where it’s best if someone is in charge, and when they see the charismatic guy, even if they don’t personally care about charisma, they realize that other people will follow him, and so get in line behind him.

It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, yes.

38 So Much for Subtlety May 15, 2014 at 4:23 am

I don’t think we have seen any really charismatic leaders for a long time. Although people have told me Clinton is quite impressive in person. I don’t think he is on TV. And Obama looks to me the result of a TV-based Cult of Personality – everyone has been telling us what a great speaker he is for so long, some people believe it.

We would probably have to go back to Reagan or even Kennedy. Although I wonder how much of that was TV personality as well. Kennedy, at least, could do a good speech. Outside America, Thatcher?

Democracies seem to have been wary of charismatic leaders since Hitler.

As for why we do it, we evolved in small hunting bands. If someone stood up and said he was really good at hunting, he probably was. So it made sense to listen to him and not the guy who looked like Woody Allen and spoke like Daffy Duck. We would all find out soon enough anyway.

The problem is we don’t live so intimately with our leaders any more. Harder to judge what they are really like. Obama keeps showing new sides of his personality all the time – I remember when he was the Healer who was going to move us into a post-racial world. But Reagan was no different in that a lot of it was crafted for the small screen.

39 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 4:41 am

Obama displayed almost no leadership charisma through age 26. I probably read more of David Maraniss’ immense biography of Obama than Maraniss’s wife did, but it’s still hard to describe how few people saw the young Obama as a leader:

Perhaps Maraniss’s most striking revelation: virtually nobody who knew Obama in the first quarter of a century of his life ever thought of him as their leader in anything. When he got to Harvard Law School at age 27, he was instantly proclaimed The First Black President. But before then, those who knew him found his passivity and disengagement frustrating.

Obama’s boss at Business International in New York, Lou Celi, told Maraniss that Obama “did not stand out in any material way.” Maraniss comments: “Celi could not see him as a leader.”

Other examples are left merely implied. For example, Maraniss pads out his book with a lengthy account of how Punahou Prep’s basketball team came together over the course of the 1978-79 season to win the state championship.

You might think: this will show off Obama’s leadership skills—but, no, Obama started the season as the third, fourth, or fifth man off the bench, and got even less playing time as the year went on. The more insignificant Obama became, the better the team played.

Or, consider Obama’s role in the “Choom Gang” of a dozen potheads at Punahou. You might think that a future Leader of the Free World would inevitably, through sheer force of charismatic personality, exert a disproportionate influence on his fellow teens in their debates over, say, which drug to take next. That’s a pretty low hurdle for leadership skills, right? However:

“There was not even a designated leader. …. The other members considered Mark Bendix the glue; he was funny, creative, and uninhibited with a penchant for Marvel Comics. … Without exerting himself in overt ways, Barry Obama held as much respect as anyone within the group.”

Got that? Our President was among the most respected dudes in the Bong Brothers.

Granted, Barry was not the glue in the Choom Gang like Mark Bendix was. But he was right up there with any of the non-Bendixian Maui Wowie tokers.


40 So Much for Subtlety May 15, 2014 at 5:07 am

Well maybe this is the point – perhaps some White people wanted a trans-formative candidate. Perhaps they wanted an American version of Nelson Mandela? Not the real former Communist who supported genocidal tyrants, but the healing, Personality Cult version of Mandela. Someone who would show America had moved past race.

But the field of plausible candidates is somewhat thin. Perhaps it is precisely because Obama is so boring, so ordinary, that they felt he was the perfect candidate. He is not threatening. What did Joe Biden and Harry Reid say about him? He is not Jessie Jackson (and he certainly cannot speak like Jackson who used to be quite good at speaking), but that is probably what they wanted.

So he has been pushed by people looking for that Invictus moment. Even though Obama’s speeches give me the impression of a bored lecturer teaching the same introductory course to First Years that he has given for the past ten years, he has been sold as charismatic and talented.

Unfortunately it does not look like that healing moment is going to come.

41 US May 15, 2014 at 4:36 am

Related observations from The Psychology of Personnel Selection, by Premuzic and Furnham, which I finished reading yesterday:

“if leadership success is operationalised in terms of followers’ satisfaction, transformational* leadership is highly predictive. However, if success is measured in terms of job performance, contingent reward (a type of transactional leadership) is more beneficial.”

“contingent reward styles work much better in business than any other setting, whereas for transformational leadership moderational effects of work setting are less salient. Thus transformational leadership is similarly beneficial in military, public sector, business and even college settings, whereas contingent rewards work quite poorly in educational settings, slightly better (but still modestly) in the public sector and the military, and better than transformational leadership in business environments.”

* (“Although there is some debate as to whether charismatic and transformational leadership should be considered synonymous, it is clear that there is a substantial conceptual overlap between both constructs.”)

It seems that business environments in general are the environments where charismatic leadership is least likely to benefit the bottom line. One might speculate that if businesses are aware of this, you’d expect charismatic leadership to be most likely to pop up in business environments that look the least like the ‘traditional business environment’, but I’m not sure how to operationalize that. I don’t know, the book didn’t include data on this stuff.

As for the “I will instead suggest that we (sometimes) follow charismatic leaders because they have high social intelligence”, there’s a (huge) literature on the trait approaches to leadership and I figured I might as well add a few words about that stuff here as it seems topical. Here’s part of what we know:

“Judge et al. performed a large-scale quantitative meta-analysis, which included 222 correlations from 73 studies. Results showed that Emotional Stability, Extraversion, Openness and Consciousness were all positively correlated with both leadership emergence (perceived leadership) and effectiveness (leadership performance). Judge et al. (2002) concluded that Extraversion is the strongest predictor of both leadership and emergence and effectiveness, no doubt because of the assertiveness, dominance and sociability of extraverts.”

One should note that: “Zaccaro’s (2007) recent review of the leadership literature concluded that leadership frameworks cannot be limited to the identification of broad trait attributes that differentiate between leaders and non-leaders”.

“A related question is to ask how many recent world leaders are in fact charismatic” – I dont’ know about ‘recent’, but there’s a literature on this stuff:

“Two important publications in the mid 1980s anticipated a revival of the trait approach to leadership. The first was a seminal book on the topic of presidential leadership by Simonton (1986), who combined psychometric and biographical analyses to identify the attributes of successful American presidents. He listed a total of fourteen, namely moderation, friendliness, intellectual brilliance, Machiavelism, poise and polish, achievement drive, forcefulness, wit, physical attractiveness, pettiness, tidiness, conservatism, inflexibility and pacifism. Barber (1992) provided a shorter, albeit largely overlapping, list of presidential attributes, namely ‘Machiavellian, forceful, moderate, poised and polished, and flexible’ (p. 153). A recent review article by Goethals (2005) concluded that successful American presidents could be characterised by their higher levels of activity, intelligence, optimism and flexibility.” (p.195)

42 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 4:52 am

I worked directly for the man who revolutionized the marketing research business in the 1980s by starting the first company to successfully use UPC scanner data from supermarkets. He was a classic transformational leader in the Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field vein. He tended to get bored managing a company that wasn’t trying something big and new.

He was a classic Big Man, about the size of an NFL linebacker, square-jawed, super self-confident. When the founder retired, the company went outside and hired another guy with a similar Big Man personality, but he turned out to be useless.

43 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 4:59 am

To expand that question, has anyone compiled a list of CEO heights? Are there many successful contemporary short CEOs? How about BMI? Can obese people make good CEOs?

44 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:02 am

Celebheights.com is a fun crowdsourced site where hobbyists argue over how tall famous people really are (e.g., “I was behind Alec Baldwin in the security line at the airport and he suddenly got 2 inches shorter when he had to take his shoes off.”)

45 dearieme May 15, 2014 at 5:07 am

I understand that Tony Blair avails himself of similar help.

46 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 5:11 am

Funnily even tech companies don’t seem to get many true stereotypical nerd looking CEOs.

47 Careless May 15, 2014 at 7:09 pm
48 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 4:59 am

Charismatic vs. contingent leadership: a good example is the contrast in Italy between Berlusconi and Andreotti. Berlusconi was a classic charismatic Big Man who seemed to win because he voters liked watching him enjoy himself so much.


In contrast, the dominant leader of the earlier late Cold War era in Italy, Andreotti, was almost invisible, but he was a brilliant transactional tactician:


49 dearieme May 15, 2014 at 5:05 am

Successful US presidents: measured how? In my years of being aware of who the US president is, I’d rate only Ike and Reagan as successful, and Bush the Elder and Nixon as half-successful. My list excludes Slick Willie, since I so loath the fellow I couldn’t usefully rate him either way, and Ford, who was only a stop-gap. While I was alive but too young to know anything about him, I’d guess that Truman was successful.

50 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 5:25 am

The heights of US presidents are also remarkable. All except one US president have been taller than 5’6″! To me that’s remarkable, especially considering the average heights back then. Almost all presidents in the last 100 years seem ~6 footers.

51 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:54 am

Some of the early ones were tall too. Washington looked like a leader you could trust, and he worked hard to live up to that trust. He didn’t seem to have much of a knack for military tactics, but he kept plugging away despite many reverses.

52 US May 15, 2014 at 5:35 am

“Successful US presidents: measured how?”

I wrote pretty much the same thing in the margin of the book, and if Tyler hadn’t brought up this topic there’s no way I’d have talked about that stuff anywhere as I don’t think much of this kind of research, to put it mildly (we incidentally often think alike – please don’t stop commenting here, as your comments are part of what keeps me coming back to these comment sections). The problem of identifying ‘success’ is incidentally but one of a number of problems with analyses of this sort:

“there are three major problems with the high-flyer biographical method. The first is specifying what constitutes a highflyer. […] The second problem is actually getting the nominated high-flyers to take part in the study by agreeing to an interview or completing a survey. High-flyers soon get ‘over-researched’, receiving little personal benefit from being research participants. Hence many of those carefully selected refuse to take part, forcing the researchers to weaken their criteria and indeed the study as a whole. Third, these sorts of studies almost never have a control group of those matched on a number of criteria who simply did not ‘make it’.”

Success isn’t the only problematic term in research like this. Apparently there’s also a huge literature on the topic of ‘talent management’, despite the fact that no-one seems to have any clue what that talent thing actually is (“it remains unclear what talent actually is, whether it needs special nurturing to last and what it predicts”).

53 Aaron Luchko May 15, 2014 at 5:09 am

I’d predict Presidents are more likely to be charismatic than Prime Ministers as Presidents communicate more through speeches, which reward charisma, while Prime Ministers communicate more through argument.

Also unstable countries would select more charismatic and dominating leaders. In an unstable country the government has weak legitimacy, a dominating charismatic leader looks both resistant to manipulation (so corruption worries decrease) and as an agreeable consensus (so the risk of government illegitimacy is lower).

54 Aaron Luchko May 15, 2014 at 5:12 am

This would also suggest charismatic leaders to be more common in unstable sectors such as technology. Businesses seek to offset the uncertainty of the business environment with a charismatic leader who seems like a natural leader.

55 prior_approval May 15, 2014 at 5:15 am

How the mighty have fallen – ‘Arguably Merkel has become charismatic through a sort of extreme, cultivated anti-charisma’

Merkel is not considered charismatic by anyone I know in Germany, nor was Kohl (unless you consider a sort of uncle figure an exemplar of charisma, at least concerning the Kohl of the re-unification era and beyond).

At best, Schoeder was considered a bit charismatic, compared to other modern German chancellors. Though Willy was beloved by many, I’m not sure charisma quite covers his appeal. Strauß could certainly project charisma of a sort (not to mention a hand just itching to be greased) – he just didn’t appeal to anyone much outside of the Freistaat. And if arrogance could be considered charismatic, then Schmidt left everyone behind in the dust.

Germans are looking for many things in the leaders they elect – a burning charisma most definitely is not a trait that is considered a plus.

Though maybe I am being just a bit too American centric here – ‘In seinem Buch Charismatiker und Effizienzen: Porträts aus 60 Jahren Bundesrepublik verglich Franz Walter 2009 (bezugnehmend auf Max Webers Unterscheidung zwischen charismatischer und der bürokratischer Herrschaft) exemplarisch charismatische Politiker der bundesdeutschen Geschichte – Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Franz Josef Strauß, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl – mit ihren effizienten Mit- und Gegenspielern: Hans Globke, Horst Ehmke, Edmund Stoiber, Rudolf Seiters und vielen anderen.’ http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charisma

That anybody would call Schmidt charismatic surprises me no end – especially since he is considered such a pure example of Hanseatic hauteur.

56 Z May 15, 2014 at 11:54 am

I suspect you guys have turned away from charismatic leaders since you know who came to a bad end.

57 GiT May 15, 2014 at 5:27 am

The amount of profoundly stupid speculation in these comments is hilarious.

58 GiT May 15, 2014 at 6:00 am

But then, that could be said of any thread of the sort in which Sailer traffics.

59 Jgdfjg May 15, 2014 at 9:57 am

Thank you for your contribution! Much appreciated!

60 GiT May 15, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Better to keep one’s mouth shut than peddle stupid bullshit based on prejudice and dilettantism.

61 ChrisA May 15, 2014 at 5:39 am

Charisma is a tactic to solve coordination problems. Many times it is better to come together and follow a less good goal, than separately pursue a better goal. For instances in war, the best strategy does not necessarily beat the one who has the most resources, sort of like Stalin in WW2 versus Hitler. In companies then charismatic leaders are good when there are coordination problems or when strategies for success are not clear. If the opposition is disorganized and you are organized, then likely you will win, even with worse strategies. So I would look for more charismatic CEOs in businesses where there are lots of coordination problems and good strategies are not clear cut. This would suggest large software firms, fashion businesses, creative businesses like films, high end cars, high end dining and so on. Less charismatic people are needed at already highly coordinated firms, such as fast food companies, oil companies and so on. Basically if the firm can write down much of what it can do in procedures, then it is already highly coordinated,
In terms of which countries “need” charismatic leaders, the ones where rule of law is less established would come to mind. Then the rules are less clear and coordination becomes a problem. Anyone who can coordinate people in these environments can do better than someone with a good strategy or idea on how to run the country but who can attract followers to the same degree. This probably explains the success of dictators in South America, the Spanish colonial legacy left a primitive legal system, so leaving a gap for charisma.

62 So Much for Subtlety May 15, 2014 at 5:52 am

This probably explains the success of dictators in South America, the Spanish colonial legacy left a primitive legal system, so leaving a gap for charisma.

I don’t think it is fair to say the Spanish left a primitive legal system. If only. They would be better off. The Civil Law tradition is not primitive.

I think that we should follow Weber’s idea of the routinization of charisma here. A new industry doesn’t really know what it is doing and has no money. So someone who can sell the dream is someone who can get people to follow them for a handful of stock options. But once the industry is well established, you need a plodding manager. Charisma is irrelevant and perhaps disruptive.

63 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 5:59 am

In Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full,” a high IQ corporate staffer, known as The Wiz, describes his lower IQ boss, Charlie Croker, real estate developer, good old boy, and ex-football star “with a back like a Jersey Bull:”

“The Wiz looked upon [Croker] as an aging, uneducated, and out-of-date country boy who had somehow, nonetheless, managed to create a large, and, until recently, wildly successful corporation. That the country boy, with half his brainpower, should be the lord of the corporation and that [the Wiz] should be his vassal was an anomaly, a perversity of fate. . . . Or part of him felt that way. The other part of him was in awe, in unconscious awe, of something the old boy had and he didn’t: namely, the power to charm men and the manic drive to bend their wills into saying yes to projects they didn’t want, didn’t need, and never thought about before… And that thing was manhood. It was as simple as that.”

64 S May 15, 2014 at 5:51 am

People dont want to follow someone unless they know everyone less will. Charisma helps solve that problem?

65 S May 15, 2014 at 6:19 am

Charisma solves a prisoners dilemma? If you follow William Wallace into battle and everybody else bails, you are toast.

66 Chip May 15, 2014 at 7:05 am

This is just an iteration of Daniel Kahnemann’s theory of system 1 and 2 thinking.

Emotional appeals work because they’re easy to process and – literally – burn fewer calories on the part of the person listening to them.

Logic requires effort. Emotion wins every time.

If we are lucky we get an emotional argument that supports a logical purpose. If not – usually – we get emotional mush: blame the Kochs, think of the children, you’re racist, save the planet etc.

67 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 7:17 am

Emotion correlates to some degree to commitment. If your leader really wants to stick it to the enemy, he’s less likely to flee and leave you stranded behind enemy lines if your assault wave doesn’t carry the day.

This helps explain much of the appeal of high hostility leaders like Netanyahu. If you go settle in the West Bank, he’s not going to suddenly turn reasonable and pull the rug out from under you like Obama wants him to. Bibi enjoys sticking it to the Pals for the sake of sticking it to the Pals, so he’ll keep sending in more settlers behind you.

68 Chip May 15, 2014 at 7:25 am

Or maybe Netanyahu is popular because it’s never been safer in Israel than now, the economy is booming and voters want a no nonsense leader while Iran is gifted a nuclear bomb.

All logical reasons that require effort.

The emotional argument would be that of his predecessors who pursued a peaceful solution, made numerous concessions and ended up with the intifada, election of Hamas and 6000 rockets.

69 Z May 15, 2014 at 9:12 am

Israel is a good study. In times of crisis they quickly turn to the badest man available. Given their history and circumstances, the frequency of crisis is high so we get to see this play out often. Israelis know Bibi will incinerate Tehran if necessary and it will probably be necessary. After the mushroom cloud is gone, they will dump him in favor of a conciliatory schmoozer pleasing to the West.

70 Nathan Goldblum May 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Cases in support: Moshe Dayan, Arik, Begin, Meir.

71 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 7:09 am

Leadership is like long-term salesmanship.

72 Kevin P. May 15, 2014 at 7:13 am

Please ban Steve Sailer. I read comments to get a variety of perspectives, not just his over and over.

73 Dan Weber May 15, 2014 at 10:06 am

You can solve your own problem:


(This is still Beta.)

74 Z May 15, 2014 at 11:52 am

That’s clever. A running list of who is on a kill list and how often would be a fun addition.

A long time ago I wrote a mod for a forum system that allowed the mods to put users in purgatory. They could still post and respond, but only they could see their posts. No one else could see them. Trolls would spend all day trying to get attention, get frustrated and quit.

The best part was watching users ask about some missing poster who was in purgatory. The banned guy would keep replying, but no one would respond to him. It was a lot of fun for me.

75 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

That’s awesome! I tried writing something like it myself but failed. Couldn’t figure how to handle the nested comment hierarchy.

76 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Feedback: I don’t see the list of blocked users at bottom right. Possible bug? Am using Chrome,

Also, it doesn’t really kill “any direct children of their comments” but only shifts them up. Which is good. But you might want to change the description.

77 Dan Weber May 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm

It took some experimentation to figure out how to get the comments handled right. I think it’s to kill parent, plus parent’s next sibling. It’s the bottom of scan_posts that does the work if you want to look.

“Bottom right” means “bottom right of the entire page.” You might have to scroll way down to see it. Try Control-F’ing for “Un-kill”. If you don’t have that, that’s a bug, and you can workaround in the meantime by wiping out “mr_killfile” from localStorage.

It -should- be killing nested comments. Kill Steve Sailer at the top of this page and Rahul’s post underneath it ought to disappear. Ray Lopez should then look like the first comment on the page. Are you not getting that?

Note that when you get to the maximum nest level, all comments are effectively siblings, and killing one won’t kill the ones “under” it. (That could be implemented, of course, but it felt unfair. We’ll see how things actually work.)

I have a slightly better version that used to be hosted at userscripts-dot-org but that site seems to have finally died, within a few days of my uploading my script there. Maybe that’s a sign. (Seriously though, the guy running it started getting sick of it a few years ago.) I’ll get that one uploaded to greasy-fork later today. It was mostly code clean-up and getting rid of all the debug messages but maybe there was something important there. I’m using Chrome on Windows right now, FWIW.

78 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Stupid me. It’s all working fine. Ignore my bug reports.

I’m really impressed though. That’s a sweet script. Do you do javascript for a living? I’m still trying to understand the logic. I had tried using jquerey but navigating the DOM was hard work.

79 Dan Weber May 16, 2014 at 11:32 am

I do Javascript among many other things. I need to stay on top of a lot of different tech.

Newer version up there now. I think it’s functionally the same, but the layout is much cleaner for anyone trying to follow along.

80 Chip May 15, 2014 at 7:21 am

Thought experiment:

Bicycle helmet laws.

Argument 1: my daughter Becky could would be alive today if she wore a helmet. Pass this law.

Argument 2: very few people are saved by helmets and the cost is so prohibitive that studies show the reduction in cycling caused by helmet laws results in more people dying from lack of exercise.

What argument prevails?

It’s not even close.

81 Axa May 15, 2014 at 7:50 am

Everybody says height is important, so……what’s going on here? I consider myself the ultimate average guy and I’m surprised than I’m taller than Putin, Berlusconi, Stalin, Churchill, Francois Hollande and Hugo Chávez http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/oct/18/world-leader-heights-tall

So, where´s the tall and big jaw guy here? In the right tail of the distribution. The set of leaders you happen to like is not equal to the total set of leaders. I don’t want to be an asshole, but……Steve Sailer, please explain this data.

82 Axa May 15, 2014 at 8:41 am

Wait a minute, this may also explain the income stratification by height. If people tend to visualize leaders as taller people, even in the selection process for a McDo restaurant manager the taller guy will have an advantage. In low leadership levels, like the restaurant manager, as long as you’re not a complete idiot you will be fine, the leadership perception is validated and the stereotype survive among humans. So, it’s not about the taller guy having leadership traits, but the caveman in our heads telling us the taller guy is a better leader. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/oct/18/voters-tall-politicians-leadership

83 Steve Sailer May 15, 2014 at 9:36 pm

In a semi-Malthusian world, height correlated strongly with social class. The aristocratic Tory Cabinet of 1895 averaged 6 feet tall.

Increasingly, fortunately, the correlation between height and anything meaningful is largely random. There are few innate advantages to height (e.g., you get cancer more often — I’m 6’4″ and almost died of cancer 16 years ago). A development I approve of is that Hollywood doesn’t seem to care about leading men being tall anymore (Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, etc.) Prejudice in favor of the tall is a relic of the poorer past and hopefully it will diminish over time.

84 Sam May 15, 2014 at 8:21 am

Don’t think of it in terms of “why does the electorate like type-X candidates”. The real question is “why does the selection process tend to produce type-X candidates”. The former way of phrasing it is a personification of an emergent property. You risk making a category error basing an explanation on electoral preferences and desires.

The reason we get charismatic leaders must come down to the type of hurdles they have to jump to get their office. In the U.S., you need to be a marathon fundraiser and excellent bullshitter.

In Canada, the parliamentary system removes a lot of the cult of personality associated with an executive branch. Moreover, the amount of stumping you need to do in Canada is far less because of our tight campaign finance laws that limit contributions to $1200 in a calender year, with most funding coming from a per-vote subsidy. The current government is rolling that back because they recognize Canada’s big money is concentrated in resource rich conservatives. So on the margin I expect to see charisma becoming more important going forward.

85 derek May 15, 2014 at 9:49 am

Canada had it’s surfeit of charisma in Trudeau, and from then on the electorate seemed to favor low key managers. A generation has passed, so I suspect the next leader will be of the charismatic type. Mature countries get it out of their system. We will see what happens in the US, which in many ways is resembling third world basket case in it’s politics and financial system.

86 Chip May 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

Right, that’s why the Liberal Party anointed Justin Trudeau as leader, following his short foray as a substitute teacher and albeit longer stint as Pierre Trudeau’s son.

A real can-do manager, that one.

87 Z May 15, 2014 at 9:05 am

Focusing on charisma is like studying shadows. Leaders need three qualities in some combination. Physical courage, risk taking and decisiveness are what every leader possesses, even most of the failures. You get examples who slip through, ending up in leadership roles despite lacking leadership qualities. These things sort themselves in times of crisis.

What’s fascinating about Obama is he lacks all three. Plenty of presidents are short in one area, but abundant in the others. Clinton lacked physical courage, but he was a risk taker and reasonably decisive. Bush may have had too much of all three, getting the reputation for being a cowboy. Obama has none of these qualities. Even his fans point this out. Maybe he is the new breed of leader for the next phase of human society or maybe he is just an enigma, like Nixon.

88 chuck martel May 15, 2014 at 9:59 am

On the basis of her speech at the Dem convention, there’s some detectable charisma in Jennifer Granholm. Too bad she’s Canadian, she’d chase Hillary off the stage. And speaking of Hillary and charisma, there’s no connection.

89 KC May 15, 2014 at 10:32 am

Abe is not charismatic. Abe is warmer now than last time, possibly due to getting better diarrhea meds.

KOIZUMI is charismatic. Basically hijacked the entire LDP to introduce postal privatization, was really the one who started getting support for less restrained foreign policy (deployed SDF to Iraq, first to pledge Yasukuni), and voters SWOONED.

Koizumi suggests that Japan is a place where people would also follow charismatic leaders, but political institutions hamper their ascendance.

90 GiT May 15, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Koizumi’s hairdo alone must be quite the charisma bump.

91 John Thacker May 15, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Exactly what I came here to say. Koizumi is charismatic. Abe i s not (as his previous time showed) won because while people disliked him, they really were interested in trying something new on monetary economics.

92 errorr May 15, 2014 at 11:55 am

Sociopaths like Clinton have an unfair advantage in that the lack of emotional intelligence seems to often be offset with social skills that leaves them well prepared for leadership.

I’ve met Clinton and my mother has met both Clinton and Obama. She said they both had that ineffable quality that made everyone in the room notice them. The difference was that Obama drew everyone’s eyes to himself while Bill made whoever he was looking at or listening to seem like the most important person on Earth. Obama had a lot of Charisma but Clinton was just superhuman. Even though I had serious doubts about Clinton his presence was overwhelming in a way that is impossible to describe. He seemed like the greatest listener in the world and could make simple banal observations people made seem worthy for academic publication. I think this is why he is the only politician who seems to argue facts successfully.

All politicians are inherently charismatic to a degree. Even less charismatic ones like Al Gore are probably wildly more charismatic than the general population.

This is why I think Rick Perry is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. A lot of charisma and experience, maybe a little bit of a mental midget.

93 Dan in Philly May 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

In a mass democracy, the one who wins isn’t the one who touches most deeply, but most broadly. While not many have Spock like analysis, everyone has Kirk like passions, and he affects more people than does Spock, thus gets himself elected.

The Spocks of the world content themselves with influencing the Kirks, and thus indirectly the world, rather than directly. Far better to be Sir Humphry Appleby than Lord Jim Hacker!

94 Alvin May 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Hands down the most charismatic political leader in the word today is Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Bill Clinton has nothing on that guy.

95 Infopractical May 15, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I greatly prefer a population in which there are some defectors who don’t put their eggs in the big basket—particularly when that basket is defined by common emotion, not sound reasoning. Even when rare leaders have charisma and high intelligence, the world is better off avoiding situations in which failure is total.

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