Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 115, Issue 1, pp 149–166 | Cite as

Discourses of Charisma: Barack Obama’s First 6 Months as the President of the USA

  • Tuomo Takala
  • Sanja Tanttu
  • Anna-Maija Lämsä
  • Aila Virtanen


This study aims to investigate discourses of the charisma of Barack Obama in articles in a leading Finnish newspaper during the first 6 months of his presidency. The results show that the media created a very enthusiastic atmosphere around Obama. His charisma was built up mostly around his person, with the emphasis on an exceptional personality, life story and behaviour. In addition, the various crises that arose were used to reinforce the picture of Obama as charismatic. The findings undermine the idea of a single form of charismatic leadership and provide empirical support for the framework put forward by Steyrer (Organizational Studies 19(5), 807–828, 1998), that various types of charismatic leadership exist: In this study paternalistic, heroic, missionary and majestic are identified. The study contributes to Steyrer’s framework by showing that certain types of charisma occur in different social contexts. The results also suggest that ethics is constructed as a crucial part of charismatic leadership, but the construction of Obama’s charisma in contrast to others raises ethical concerns.


Charisma Charismatic leadership Ethics Barack Obama Discourse analysis Media Social constructionism 


  1. Aaltio-Marjosola, I., & Takala, T. (2000). Charismatic leadership, manipulation and complexity of organizational life. Journal of Workplace Learning, 12(4), 146–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aliriza, B. (2009). Turkey update: President Obama’s trip to Turkey. Retrieved Jan 4, 1.2012, from
  3. Avolio, B. J., Rotundo, M., & Walumbwa, F. O. (2009a). Early life experiences as determinants of leadership role occupancy. The importance of parental influence and rule breaking behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(3), 329–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Avolio, B. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Weber, T. J. (2009b). Leadership: current theories, research, and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 421–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ball, K., & Carter, C. (2002). The charismatic gaze: everyday leadership practices and the “new” manager. Management Decision, 40(6), 552–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  9. Bligh, M. C., & Kohles, J. C. (2009). The enduring allure of charisma. How Barack Obama won the historic 2008 presidential election. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(3), 483–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, C. B. (2011). Barack Obama as the great man. Communicative constructions of racial transcendence in white-male elite discourses. Communication Monographs, 78(4), 535–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bryman, A. (1992). Charisma, & leadership in organizations. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Bryman, A. (2011). Research methods in the study of leadership. In A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of leadership (pp. 15–28). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Bryman, A., & Bell, E. (2003). Business research methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Burns, J. M. G. (1979). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  15. Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organizational analysis. Aldershot: Gower.Google Scholar
  16. Campbell, S. M., Ward, A. J., Sonnenfeld, J. A., & Agle, B. R. (2008). Relational ties that bind. Leader–follower relationship dimensions and charismatic attribution. Leadership Quarterly, 19, 556–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Collinson, D., & Grint, K. (2005). Editorial: The leadership agenda. Leadership, 1(1), 5–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Conger, J. A. (1999). Charismatic and transformational leadership in organizations: An insider’s perspective on these developing streams of research. Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), 145–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Conger, J. A. (2011). Charismatic leadership’. In A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of leadership (pp. 86–102). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Conger, J. A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1987). Toward a behavioral theory of charismatic leadership in organizational settings. Academy of Management Review, 12(4), 637–647.Google Scholar
  21. Conger, J. A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1994). Charismatic leadership in organizations: Perceived behavioral attributes and their measurement. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15(5), 439–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Conger, J. A., Kanungo, R. N., & Menon, S. T. (2000). Charismatic leadership and follower effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21, 747–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Crant, J. M., & Bateman, T. S. (2000). Charismatic leadership viewed from above: The impact of proactive personality. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 21, 63–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. DeGroot, T., Kiker, D., & Cross, T. (2000). A meta-analysis to review organizational outcomes related to charismatic leadership. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 17, 356–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Deluga, R. J. (1998). American presidential proactivity, charismatic leadership, and rated performance. Leadership Quarterly, 9(3), 265–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Erikson, D. P. (2008). Obama, and Latin America. Magic of realism. World Policy Institute. Retrieved Jan 4, 2012, from
  27. Erikson, D.P. (2010). The Obama administration and Latin America: Towards a new partnership? Working Paper No. 6. Retrieved Jan 4, 2012, from
  28. Fairclough, N. (1998). Discourse and social change. Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  29. Fairclough, N., & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical discourse analysis. In T. A. Dijk (Ed.), Discourse as social interaction, discourse studies: A multidisplinary introduction (Vol. 2, pp. 258–284). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Fairhurst, G. T. (2011). Discursive approaches to leadership. In A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of leadership. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Fiol, C. M., Harris, D., & House, R. (1999). Charismatic leadership: strategies for effecting social change. Leadership Quarterly, 10(3), 449–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Freud, S. (1955). Group psychology and analysis of ego. London: Hogarth, and Son.Google Scholar
  33. Gardner, W. L., & Avolio, B. J. (1998). The charismatic relationship: A dramaturgical perspective. Academy of Management Review, 23(1), 32–58.Google Scholar
  34. Glynn, M. A., & Dowd, T. J. (2008). Charisma (un)bound emotive leadership in Martha Stewart Living magazine, 1990–2004. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 44(1), 71–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hardy, C., Harley, B., & Phillips, N. (2004). Discourse analysis and content analysis: Two solitudes? Qualitative Methods, 2(1), 19–22.Google Scholar
  36. Hardy, C., Palmer, I., & Phillips, N. (2000). Discourse as a strategic resource’. Human Relations, 53(9), 1227–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hayibor, S., Agle, B. R., Sears, G. J., Sonnenfeldt, J. A., & Ward, A. (2011). Value congruence and charismatic leadership in CEO–top manager relationships: An empirical investigation. Journal of Business Ethics, 102, 237–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hogg, M. A. (2005). Social identity and leadership. In D. M. Messick & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), The psychology of leadership. New perspectives and research (pp. 53–80). New York: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  39. House, R. J., Spangler, W. D., & Woycke, J. (1991). Personality and charisma in the U.S. presidency: A psychological theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 36, 364–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Howell, J. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1992). The ethics of charismatic leadership: Submission or liberation. Academy of Management Executive, 6(2), 43–54.Google Scholar
  41. Jokinen, A., Juhila, K., & Suoninen, E. (2002). Diskurssianalyysi liikkeessä. 2. painos [Doing discourse analysis]. Jyväskylä: Vastapaino.Google Scholar
  42. Judge, T. A., & Piccolo, R. F. (2004). Transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic test of their relative validity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(5), 755–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kerr, R. (2008). Discourse and leadership; using the paradigm of the permanent state of emergency. Critical Discourse Studies, 5(3), 201–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kirkpatrick, S. A., & Locke, E. A. (1996). Direct and indirect effects of three core charismatic leadership components on performance and attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(1), 36–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kodrich, K. (2009). Defenders of Inequality? An examination of online news media’s coverage of social justice issues in Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia. Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. A paper prepared for 2009 Congress the Latin America Studies Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 11–14, 2009.Google Scholar
  46. Krippendorff, K. (2004). Content analysis. An introduction to its methodology (2nd ed.). California: Sage.Google Scholar
  47. Lämsä, A.-M., & Hautala, T. (2008). Organisaatiokäyttäytymisen perusteet, 4. ed [Introduction to organizational behavior]. Helsinki, Edita.Google Scholar
  48. Lämsä, A.-M., & Sintonen, T. (2001). A discursive approach to understanding women leaders in working life. Journal of Business Ethics, 34(3–4), 255–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lämsä, A.-M., & Tiensuu, T. (2002). Representations of the woman leader in Finnish business media articles. Business Ethics: A European Review, 11(4), 363–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Meindl, J. R. (1989). On leadership: An alternative to conventional wisdom .Conference paper, Fourth International Conference on Organizational Symbolism and Corporate Culture. Google Scholar
  51. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data-analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Neuberger, O. (1990). Führen und geführt werden. Stuttgart: Enke.Google Scholar
  53. Northouse, P. G. ( 2004). Leadership: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SageGoogle Scholar
  54. Northouse, P. G. ( 2007). Leadership: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SageGoogle Scholar
  55. Ospina, S., & Foldy, E. (2009). A critical review of race and ethnicity in the leadership literature: Surfacing context, power, and collective dimensions of leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 20(6), 876–896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Parker, M. (1992). Discourse dynamics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  57. Pastor, J.-C., Meindl, J. R., & Mayo, M. C. (2002). A network effects model of charisma attributions. Academy of Management Journal, 45(2), 410–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Phillips, N., & Hardy, C. (2002). Discourse analysis: Investigating processes of social construction. Sage University papers series on qualitative research methods, Vol. 50. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  59. Potter, J., & Wetherell, M. (1998). Discourse and social psychology. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Prendergast, J., & Norris, J. (2009). Obama, Africa and peace. Retrieved Jan 4, 2012, from
  61. Sankowsky, D. (1995). The charismatic leader as narcissist’. Organizational Dynamics, 23(4), 57–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schweitzer, A. (1974). Theory and political charisma. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 16(2), 150–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shamir, B., House, R. J., & Arthur, M. B. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic leadership: A self-concept based theory. Organizational Science, 4(4), 577–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shamir, B., & Howell, J. M. (1999). Organizational and contextual influences on the emergence and effectiveness of charismatic leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), 257–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shamir, B., Zakay, E., Breinin, E., & Popper, M. (1998). Correlates of charismatic leader behaviors in military units: Subordinates’ attitudes, unit characteristics and superiors’ appraisals of leader performance. Academy of Management Journal, 41(4), 387–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Steyrer, J. (1998). Charisma and the archetypes of leadership. Organizational Studies, 19(5), 807–828.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Takala, T. (1998). Plato on leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(7), 785–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Takala, T. (2009). Charismatic leader’s dilemma: How to be a good leader in the context of racism? China-USA Business Review, 8(1), 46–53.Google Scholar
  69. Tuomi, J., and Sarajärvi, A. (2006). Laadullinen tutkimus ja sisällönanalyysi [Qualitative research and content analysis]. Jyväskylä: Tammi.Google Scholar
  70. Valasek, T. (2009). Obama, Russia and Europe, Centre of European reform. Retrieved Jan 5, 2012, from
  71. Weber, M. (1978). In G. Roth & C. Wittich (Eds.), Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  72. Yukl, G. (2002). Leadership in organizations (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tuomo Takala
    • 1
  • Sanja Tanttu
    • 1
  • Anna-Maija Lämsä
    • 1
  • Aila Virtanen
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Business and Economics, University of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland

Personalised recommendations