Possibly the Tesla administrators who agreed to pay Elon Musk US$56 billion have been simply feeling beneficiant. Or perhaps, because the choose who cancelled this “unfathomable” deal advised, they actually have been “starry eyed” and swayed by Musk’s “famous person enchantment”.
In her ruling, Kathaleen McCormick said those that determined to offer Musk the most important pay cheque in company historical past may have been “swept up by the rhetoric” surrounding one of many world’s greatest recognized CEOs. Actually Musk – and his model of management – appears to be consistently within the highlight.
The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) might need described his management model as “charismatic”. Weber saw charisma because the possession of a selected sort of authority which stemmed from admirers attributing extraordinary qualities to a single individual.
He mentioned such leaders, whether or not they labored in politics or business, appeared to have a “reward of grace” (from the Greek origins of the phrase “charisma”) – a particular one thing which units them aside, and permits them to create change in a means that may be not possible for lesser mortals.
My research means that charismatic management appears to be having fun with a renaissance, having fallen out of trend over the previous 20 years.
Charismatic leaders was in every single place. They appeared to be the perfect of massive enterprise within the west from the late Seventies till the flip of the century. Within the US, for instance, Lee Iacocca was typically credited as being the saviour of Chrysler for making the automobile producer worthwhile after it had been on the verge of chapter.
Equally, Jack Welch, as CEO of Common Electrical, was well-known for his administration model and merciless cost-cutting, which preceded extraordinary progress on the firm based by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan. Within the UK, the likes of Richard Branson and Alan Sugar have been celebrated as characterful innovators who made massive quantities of cash.
However a collection of enterprise scandals throughout the early 2000s – such because the collapse of Enron and telecommunications large WorldCom – noticed charismatic management begin to fall out of favour.
This development was accelerated by the worldwide monetary disaster in 2008, and a rising consciousness about local weather change and gender inequality – points which appeared to name for brand new, extra accountable and democratic kinds of management.
The return of charisma?
So, the charisma-based mannequin of administration went out of trend, changed by management kinds described as “authentic” (leaders who’re true to themselves) or “shared”, when management is a intentionally collective endeavour.
The CEOs of essentially the most well-known international corporations ten years in the past, corresponding to ExxonMobil and Walmart, weren’t family names. However at the moment, the bosses of companies corresponding to Meta, Amazon and Tesla are world well-known. So why the change?
Partly, this took place after the financial growth following the 2008 international monetary disaster noticed tech companies rapidly increase in value – success that was typically credited to the founder. Figures corresponding to Jeff Bezos and Sam Altman got here to be perceived as entrepreneurial heroes moderately than “mere” CEOs, rising their prominence and public profiles.
One other issue comes from residing in a time of disaster. The Harvard sociologist Rakesh Khurana warned back in 2002 that the adulation loved by some charismatic CEOs as “saviours” distracts us from different individuals’s contribution to a selected firm’s success.
The seek for Khurana’s “saviour” figures appears to supply a easy escape route from worries over local weather change, conflict and financial turbulence. When Musk fantasises about saving humankind by colonising area, and the disgraced crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried proposes the eradication of world poverty, they current themselves as redemptive figures to audiences past their traders and staff.
Moreover, in a world more and more reliant on algorithms, enterprise has turn out to be considerably dehumanised. Folks could also be craving for management with a (tremendous)human face.
A extra crowded stage
None of this implies, nevertheless, that charismatic leaders will attain the identical diploma of dominance they did within the Nineteen Eighties and ’90s. If the charismatic chief is making a comeback, it’s a comeback on a extra crowded stage. They could be widespread in sure circles, however so too is the chief as a champion of diversity, or ethics, or human relationships.
Whereas charismatic leaders obtain the lion’s share of consideration, many people would certainly choose to have a boss who’s much less grandiose and extra modest of their management model. That might be somebody like Mary Barra at Common Motors or Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen at Danish pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk. Or it might be one of many numerous leaders whose names don’t seem within the media almost day by day.
As a recent biography of Musk exhibits, the Tesla boss holds history-defining affect through his enterprise pursuits in a social media platform, satellite tv for pc know-how and vehicles. So, maybe the large query is how we are able to greatest reasonable the big focus of energy gathered by some charismatic leaders. Chopping US$56 billion from an infinite private fortune is perhaps a step in the suitable path.
This text was initially revealed in The Dialog 6 February 2024. It may be accessed right here:https://theconversation.com/how-valuable-is-elon-musks-charismatic-leadership-thats-the-56-billion-dollar-question-220914
In regards to the Creator
Sverre Spoelstra is an affiliate professor at Copenhagen Enterprise Faculty, Denmark, and at Lund College, Sweden. His analysis pursuits embody philosophy of management and group, the relation between work and play and digitalization. He’s the writer of Management and Group: A philosophical Introduction (Routledge, 2018).