Rethinking Leadership

Rethinking Leadership

A New Look at Old Leadership Questions

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Donna Ladkin

A must-read for serious leadership studies scholars, Rethinking Leadership offers a radical reconceptualisation of leadership as a contextually embedded, physically embodied phenomenon. The book arrives at original and surprising answers to perennial questions such as ‘What is leadership?’ and ‘How do leaders lead change?’, by addressing them from a philosophical, rather than psychological or sociological standpoint.

Chapter 5: What is Charismatic Leadership?

Donna Ladkin

Subjects: business and management, business leadership, politics and public policy, leadership


The mind feels itself moved in the representation of the Sublime . . . whilst in aesthetical judgments about the Beautiful it is in restful contemplation. [The Sublime] is like an abyss in which Imagination fears to lose itself . . . Immanuel Kant Critique of Judgement (1790 [2005], p. 72) Much of this chapter has been written during the USAs Presidential campaign of 2008. The final stage of that contest has been waged between a man acclaimed for the charisma of his oratory skills, Barack Obama, and an opponent whose appeal seems to rest more on his many years of experience and personal history as a prisoner of war, John McCain. Obama first appeared on the world stage as keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention held in Boston, MA, on 27 July 2004. His declaration, ‘We are not white America, or Black America, we are the United States of America’, excited the crowd and whispers of ‘Presidential candidate’ were first heard. Throughout the campaign, this young senator from Illinois was compared with other charismatic icons of American politics such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Certainly, Obama’s ability to attract record numbers of people to his rallies (200 000 in Berlin on 24 July 2008; 70 000 at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO in August 2008; where he took his party’s nomination) has caused his opponents to liken him to a ‘rock star’ and celebrity, rather than as a serious politician. That attribution itself expresses some of the ambivalence inherent in...

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