The German sociologist Max Weber identified three ideal types of leadership in which authority may rest: (1) charismatic, (2) traditional, and (3) rational-legal. In any society or institution, the power of the leader may be exercised on the basis of a mixture of these 3 types of leadership.
1. Charismatic Leadership
Charismatic Leadership is founded on the personal traits and gifts of the leader. The more authentic these personal traits are as perceived by the people, the higher is the legitimacy of the leader. People obey the leader, not primarily because of certain laws or traditions, but because of his/her personal talents. Because it is a personalized form of authority, charismatic leadership tends to be unstable. It does not normally survive after the death of the original leader, and it often abandons the leader while he or she is alive. Charismatic leaders in history include Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, St. Francis of Asisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, etc.
In corporate settings, charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few, are creative, innovative, and visionary people. They have extraordinary talents that ordinary managers do not possess. They usually introduce innovation, creativity, or unique management style in their business environments.
2. Traditional authority
Traditional leadership is one that is based on some sort of tradition that is handed down from the past. The leader is obeyed by the people as a legitimate leader because of a formal or informal norm handed down by great leaders or managers from the past. This kind of leadership is based on customs and traditions of the business firms. The leader is not usually innovative but conservative. He or she is just continuing what is being practiced by the company based on tradition.
The ordination of a priest by a bishop is an example of traditional authority. The new priest received his power and authority by way of tradition, and people obey him as a legitimate spiritual pastor of the Church. Succession in monarchy is also done through traditional authority. Tradition dictates that only persons with royal blood can ascend to the throne.
3. Rational-Legal Leadership
The last type of leadership proposed by Max Weber is the most common type of authority in modern and contemporary society. This leadership is based on a set of rules, and the belief in the legitimacy of the process of rule creation and enforcement. This form of domination is routinized through bureaucracy. The leader assumes the right to exercise power over the people because the law says so.
The leader’s authority is held by legally established impersonal orders and extends to people only by virtue of the offices they hold. The power of government officials, for instance, is determined by the offices to which they are appointed or elected because of their individual qualifications. As long as individuals hold these offices, they have a certain amount of power. But once they leave office, their rational-legal authority is also lost. Though personal traits also count in the selection process, a fixed law becomes the primary legitimizer of the leader’s capacity to exercise leadership. His authority expires when he retires or becomes incapacitated as stipulated by law.
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What kind of a leader are you? Which type of leadership do you aim to achieve?
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