The Duality of Leadership

I’m not sure if a line can be drawn between charismatic leaders and technocratic leaders, but we can live with it and make underlying assumptions to put leaders into one basket or another.

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We all admire leaders of various types in our lives. Academicians often distinguish leadership into two types: Charismatic and Technocratic. It confuses me. In my belief and based on my understanding, there is a huge overlap between qualities of Charismatic Leaders and Technocratic Leaders, and it is difficult for me to make a distinction.

To make my point, I give the examples of Jack Welch (GE)Konosuke Matsushita (Panasonic), and Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway).

Source: Wikipedia

Welch was named “Manager of the Century,” Matsushita as “The God of Manamagent” in Japan, and Buffet, ”Oracle of Omaha.”

If we read closely into their lives, we can observe that they all maintained a profound level of duality in their lives. So, before I come to arguments, let me explain what duality really means.

Duality: When two seemingly opposite forces co-exist in equality, we call it a duality. Naturally, if equal and opposite forces or ideas as not present in a large quantity, we will not be able to observe the differences.

Both Matsushita and Welch, in my opinion, show qualities of both a Charismatic Leadership and Technocratic Leadership. The way they maintained a balance between cost leadership and differentiation, good care of employees and yet being demanding, freedom of business units and instruments of control, and competition and cooperation among businesses are quite remarkable. But those are their management skill-based outcomes. As business leaders, their personal attributes are also equally remarkable. Therefore, which type would we classify them as?

An interesting article from The Atlantic American Everyman by Walter Kirn also reflects the presence of duality in the leadership style, if I may loosely use the term.

The reading interestingly brings out dualities of:

1. Overlord v/s underdog

2. Opportunist v/s populist

3. Investment v/s speculation

4. Grandeur v/s Modesty

5. Anxiety v/s Calmness

This surely doesn’t mean that one goes on tries to forcefully emulate such behavior. A leader has to be first truthful to themselves and then to others, and in the process, reflect duality.

Watch this controversial commercial of Nike featuring Charles Barkley, a former NBA star.

Charles Barkley maintained this duality too! While he said, “I’m not a role model,” however, the whole purpose of the advertisement was to influence a target audience, and he did it really well!    

I’m not sure if a line can be drawn between charismatic leaders and technocratic leaders, but we can live with it and make underlying assumptions to put leaders into one basket or another.

The larger implication of my message is that leaders have to maintain this duality in life but in a very natural way. I believe if one gets drifted away into believing their one type, then they may not sharpen their other tools!

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