A Charismatic Leadership Loop


Thomas Sy and Calen Horton of University of California, Riverside; and Ronald Riggio of Claremont McKenna College, propose this model of charismatic leadership:

Hey, look. A loop!
I love loops.

The article, Charismatic Leadership: Eliciting and channeling follower emotions, is published in Leadership Quarterly.

The charismatic leader elicits an emotion in the followers, who have an emotional response. The leader channels this emotional response into congruent behavior, and the followers act, resulting in an outcome. If the outcome is successful, the followers attribute it to the leader, who can then more easily elicit emotions.

In this model the emotion is a proximal outcome of the leader’s behavior, which then is channeled toward the distal outcome. For example, the leader elicits admiration and channels that emotion toward emulatory behavior.

The emotions that the authors focus on are the moral emotions:

  • Other-praising moral emotions
    • Awe, elevation, admirationGratitude
  • Self-conscious moral emotions
    • Shame, embarrassmentGuilt
  • Other-condemning moral emotions
    • Anger
      • ContemptDisgust
  • Other-suffering moral emotions
    • Compassion

Moral emotions “are distinct from other emotions because they appear to have evolved to regulate the behavior of individuals within a group.” They can be prompted by information about an event that does not involve immediate self-interest, and they encourage individuals to act pro-socially in ways potentially beneficial to the group to which they belong.

The authors give an example of an emotion that is not a moral emotion: “Fear tends to be inspired by events that affect the self either directly or indirectly.” This lines up with Reptile Strategy, which suggests that an advocate show jurors how the other party’s actions pose an immediate danger. (It lines up with Kelly Siegler’s trial-ad advice too.)

The authors do not consider non-moral emotions such as fear relevant to charisma. (Clearly a charismatic leader can use fear to elicit behavior; in this model the fear does not contribute to the charisma.) They call the moral emotions “Followership-Relevant Emotions.”

A grid! (I also love grids.)

The “focus” is relative to group membership. Compassion is felt more strongly for ingroup members than for strangers; contempt and disgust are felt more strongly for outgroup members than for those we are close to, and “appear to be associated with devaluation and separation.”

“Valence” refers to whether the emotion compels “affiliative or expulsive behavior.” Does it make the follower want to be closer to someone, or farther from?

Here’s a timely tidbit: “The FRE model predicts that when leaders are trying to motivate expulsive behavior toward an outgroup, they will attempt to elicit the other-condemning emotions.” Consistent with this, researchers have found “leaders of ideological groups that committed an act of aggression toward and outgroup made more anger, contempt, and disgust-laden references toward the outgroup in the months prior to the act of aggression.” Now who does that make you think of?

The authors offer 17 propositions that should be true if their model is accurate:

  1. When charismatic leaders are seeking to produce affiliative action toward a target located inside the group, there will be an increase in leader behavior and communication aimed at eliciting the other-suffering (compassion) emotions in followers.
  2. When charismatic leaders are seeking to produce expulsive action toward a target located inside the group, there will be an increase in leader behavior and communication aimed at eliciting the self-conscious (shame, embarrassment, guilt) emotions in followers.
  3. When charismatic leaders are seeking to produce affiliative action toward a target located outside the group, there will be an increase in leader behavior and communication aimed at eliciting the other-praising (awe, admiration, elevation, gratitude) emotions in followers.
  4. When charismatic leaders are seeking to produce expulsive action toward a target located outside the group, there will be an increase in leader behavior and communication aimed at eliciting the other-condemning (anger, contempt, disgust) emotions in followers.
  5. When charismatic leaders are appealing to a specific emotion to motivate followers, they will appeal to values that are congruent with the emotion they are attempting to elicit.
  6. When charismatic leaders are appealing to a specific emotion to motivate followers, the metaphors that they use will be congruent with the emotion they are attempting to elicit.
  7. When charismatic leaders are appealing to a specific emotion to motivate followers, the emotion they display will be congruent with the type of emotion they are attempting to elicit.
  8. When charismatic leaders are appealing to a specific emotion to motivate followers, the language they use will be congruent with the type of emotion they are attempting to elicit.
  9. The effectiveness of charismatic leaders in eliciting an emotion from followers will be positively related to the degree of congruence between their elicitation behaviors and the emotion they are attempting to elicit.
  10. To the degree that charismatic leaders are successful in emotion elicitation, followers will exhibit changes in cognitive, physiological, and motivational responses congruent with the emotion elicited.
  11. Charisma will be attributed to leaders according to their degree of success in eliciting emotions from their followers.
  12. After eliciting emotion from their followers, charismatic leaders will engage in channeling behaviors that direct followers to act in ways congruent with the emotions elicited.
  13. To the degree that charismatic leaders are successful in their channeling behavior, followers will engage in action congruent with the emotions that leaders elicited.
  14. If followers’ actions are successful, then they will experience positive affect, attribute more effectiveness to leaders, and exhibit increased trust in leaders as a result of having fulfilled their emotional motivations and goals.
  15. Congruence of emotional motivations and goals will moderate the relationship between leader channeling behaviors and subsequent follower action.
  16. The intensity of followers’ emotional response will moderate the relationship between leader channeling behaviors and subsequent follower action.
  17. If followers’ actions are successful, then the resulting increase in positive affect, perceptions of leader effectiveness, and trust in leader will moderate the relationship between subsequent leader elicitation behaviors and the emotion they elicit in followers.

Sy and his colleagues have given us an interesting model, worth poking around in. In a jury trial, the defense lawyer usually will not have more than one chance to work through a charisma loop like this—the action the followers engage in at (13) will be a “not guilty” verdict.

In Texas, where juries determine punishment, the prosecutor can get two loops. If the jury convicts the defendant, the prosecutor may go into the punishment phase with additional credibility. Something to be aware of, and perhaps an argument in favor of the defense lawyer who tried the culpability case not trying the punishment case.

In the typical case, the defense lawyer as leader is seeking “to produce affiliative action toward a target located outside the group” (Proposition 3) so there will “be an increase in leader behavior and communication aimed at eliciting the other-praising (awe, admiration, elevation, gratitude) emotions in followers.”

Also in the typical case, the prosecutor as leader is seeking “to produce expulsive action toward a target located outside the group” (Proposition 4) so there will “be an increase in leader behavior and communication aimed at eliciting the other-condemning (anger, contempt, disgust) emotions in followers.”

Congruence is key. Leaders will appeal to values, use metaphors, display emotion, and use language all congruent with the emotion they are trying to elicit, and their effectiveness in eliciting the emotion will be positively related to their degree of congruence. Their followers will experience changes congruent with the emotion, the leaders will channel the followers to action congruent with the emotion, and followers will engage in that congruent action.

Congruence is one side my hypnosis teacher Mike Mandel’s “Mandel Triangle” for performance (“will help therapists do more elegant work, stage hypnotists do better shows, and keynote speakers deliver more engaging talks”).

I’ve seen research (can’t retrieve it at the moment) suggesting that people detect dishonesty not by any one tell, but by unconsciously noticing incongruence between signals on different channels.

But congruence is something they don’t teach in law school. 

How do you become congruent? On reflection, I think this is one major thing that Joshua Karton is doing in his advocacy training: helping lawyers access emotions congruent with their advocacy. If you get a chance to work with Joshua, take it.

I also think this is an unadvertised benefit of psychodrama training, as incorporated at the Trial Lawyers College. By making the lawyer a more congruent human being, psychodrama makes her a more congruent advocate.


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