Is Vladimir Putin a Transformational or a Charismatic Leader?

The question assumes the two categories are ‘either-or’. A better question: are Vlidimir Putin’s behaviours explained better by transformational or charismatic leadership maps?

Beware the ‘Either-or’ question

A quick visit to textbooks of leadership (such as Dilemmas of Leadership) provides ways of answering the questions and explains the difficulties inherent in an ‘either-or’ formulation. One reason is that an either-or perspective overlooks overlooks the key point that in empirical studies, leaders display a full range of styles including transformational and transactional features.

The charismatic leadership map

Charismatic leaders have been mapped from ancient times. The core assumption about them is that they have special skills or gifts so that followers are captivated by them and their ideas.

The transformational leadership map

The transformational map is a modern treatment of leaders (ca 1980s) which acknowledges some features are charismatic. The Transformation leader, as its label implies, transforms the worlds of their followers (which can be local to a team or organization, or global to the leader of a Nation State).

Transformational leaders are assessed most commonly on a scale developed by Bass and Avolio which captures a ‘full range’ of factors including transformational and transactional ones. Transformational leaders mostly require some transactional skills as well.

Other differences

The older maps of charismatic leadership have increasingly been extended to incorporate the ‘dark side’ of charismatic leadership manifest in tyrannical leaders. Transformational leadership has tended to treat tyrannical leaders as a special case. This has produced the so-called ‘Hitler dilemma’ for transformational research.

In part, the difficulty may be seen to require attention to the ‘dark side’ of leaders which is not generally considered.

Putin as a Grand Prix driver

A recent news article from Xinhuanet shows Mr Putin as a Grand Prix driver.

Jeff Schubert’s view

LWD subscriber Jeff Schubert notes

In order to justify his impending return to the presidency, Putin has invoked the cases of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles De Gaulle and Helmut Kohl as men who held power for a long time and who have been treated quite well be history – in contrast to Russia’s own Leonid Brezhnev.

Dmitry Peskov, his press secretary has said: “Putin reads all the time, mostly about the history of Russia. He reads memoirs, the memoirs of Russian historical state figures…”

The maps suggest…

If the distinction between transformational and charismatic style holds, a case could be made that Putin fits the older maps of someone who is actively promoted as a charismatic leader more than as the more modern transformational one.

Recent events

Recent events in The Ukraine have brought President Putin into the international spotlight. The western media have tended to mock the assiduous building of his image of the great leader, although with less contempt than in their treatments of North Korea’s incumbent. His decisive military intervention in the Ukrainian crisis has drawn attention to his power to influence world events.

Worth thinking about

Emerging events suggest that Putin is being seen as a modern illustration of The Great Man theory of leadership.. The theory was associated with Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century and considers that heroic and rare individuals shape the course of history. The contrary theories suggest that historical situations create powerful leaders. Cometh the hour, cometh the leader…

In many cultures the yearning for a Great Man to emerge and lead the people to greatness or rescue them from danger remains. Students are left to consider why the theory tends to ignore the Great Woman theory of leadership.

Interest in this post increased at the height of the Ukraine crisis [March 2014]. Is someone adding the Lone Ranger style to those attributed to Putin?


6 Responses to Is Vladimir Putin a Transformational or a Charismatic Leader?

  1. Putin scholars might be interested in the way which he is portrayed on Russian Today. Several documentaries show the adoration Putin attracts from the young people. It is clear that he encourages them to engage in politics. –

  2. samer al salhi says:

    during the study of POL course in MBSWW by Prof. Richards we were in the conflict to separate not only these 2 leadership perspectives but most of the leadership perspectives

    in other words leadership is social science focusing in the behavioral and spiritual sides of human which make it very complex and of many branches, the new theories or hypothesis emerge due to a new finding or due to insufficiency of the old one to explain the behavior of leaders hence transformational leadership is the one i like to describe Mr. Putin by

    final note: it is very hard to give a leader a description of his leadership style by just one perspective , again this is related to his behavior which as most of human could be predicted to some extent making it difficult to have a general judgment on his style by one aspect of leadership theories meaning today he might act in a way making it clear he is a charismatic leader tomorrow acting in a different way appear to be transformational later something else !

  3. Yes. The dangers are for people who mix up dominant behavioural patterns with unique ones. The more we study someone the more various patterns of behaviour are revealed.

    Best wishes

  4. Another point: It is easier to assess behaviours in specific contexts than attempt to find evidence of some universal style. This ‘episode by episode’ approach is helped if the tough decisions made by the leader are also examined (dilemmas).

  5. Reblogged this on Leaders We Deserve and commented:

    There has been considerable traffic to this earlier post over the unfolding crisis in Ukraine.

  6. Corrections made after message from Dr Pikay Richardsson. Thanks, PIkay

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