Conger and Kanungo’s three-stage charismatic leadership model

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Conger and Kanungo’s three-stage charismatic leadership model

Conger and Kanungo’s Three-Stage Charismatic Leadership Model offers a comprehensive framework for understanding the process through which charismatic leaders emerge and influence their followers. This model, developed by Jay Conger and Rabindra Kanungo, provides valuable insights into the stages that charismatic leaders typically progress through, from their initial emergence to the impact they have on their followers and organizations. Let’s explore the key points, stages, and implications of this influential model.

Understanding Conger and Kanungo’s Three-Stage Charismatic Leadership Model

Charismatic leadership has long been a subject of fascination for scholars and practitioners. Conger and Kanungo’s model contributes to this field by offering a structured approach to understanding the development, behavior, and impact of charismatic leaders. This model highlights the dynamic nature of charismatic leadership and the interplay between leaders and their followers.

Key Components of the Three-Stage Charismatic Leadership Model

Emergence of the Charismatic Leader:

The first stage of the model focuses on the emergence of the charismatic leader. It suggests that certain individuals possess unique personal characteristics, such as confidence, eloquence, and a strong sense of self-belief, that set them apart from others. These individuals have a compelling presence and the ability to attract attention.

Behavioral Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders:

In the second stage, Conger and Kanungo identify specific behavioral characteristics common among charismatic leaders. These include visionary thinking, emotional expression, unconventional behavior, and the use of symbols and rituals. Charismatic leaders articulate a compelling vision, connect emotionally with their followers, and challenge the status quo.

Impact on Followers and Organizations:

The third stage of the model explores the impact that charismatic leaders have on their followers and organizations. Charismatic leaders inspire extraordinary levels of commitment, loyalty, and performance from their followers. They create a sense of shared identity and purpose, often driving significant changes in attitudes, behaviors, and organizational cultures.

Stages of the Three-Stage Charismatic Leadership Model

Emergence Stage:

In the emergence stage, potential charismatic leaders are identified based on their distinctive personal characteristics. These individuals stand out due to their confidence, communication skills, and ability to captivate others. They possess a strong sense of self-efficacy and are often seen as natural leaders.

Behavioral Stage:

During the behavioral stage, charismatic leaders begin to exhibit specific behaviors that reinforce their charismatic presence. They articulate a clear and inspiring vision, connect emotionally with their followers, and demonstrate unconventional behavior. Charismatic leaders are effective storytellers, using symbols and rituals to reinforce their message and create a sense of shared identity.

Impact Stage:

In the impact stage, the influence of charismatic leaders becomes evident. Their vision and behaviors inspire followers to embrace new ideas, challenge the status quo, and pursue a shared goal. Charismatic leaders foster a sense of collective efficacy, where followers believe in their ability to make a difference. This stage often leads to significant changes in attitudes, increased performance, and a strong sense of commitment and loyalty.

Examples of the Three-Stage Charismatic Leadership Model in Action

Historical Figure: Nelson Mandela

Emergence Stage: Nelson Mandela, a prominent anti-apartheid activist, emerged as a charismatic leader due to his unwavering commitment to freedom and his strong presence, even during his imprisonment.

Behavioral Stage:

Mandela articulated a vision of a unified South Africa, free from racial discrimination. He connected emotionally with his followers, often through powerful speeches, and challenged the existing apartheid system.

Impact Stage:

Mandela’s charismatic leadership inspired international support for the anti-apartheid movement, leading to significant changes in South African policies and fostering reconciliation among its diverse population.

Business Leader: Steve Jobs

Emergence Stage: Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, stood out for his confidence, creativity, and unconventional thinking. His unique personality and strong beliefs attracted attention.

Behavioral Stage:

Jobs presented innovative and groundbreaking products, such as the iPhone, through charismatic product launches. He used storytelling and symbolism to create a cult-like following for Apple products.

Impact Stage:

Jobs’ charismatic leadership transformed the technology industry. He inspired a culture of innovation and design within Apple, and his influence extended beyond the company, shaping consumer expectations and experiences.

Applying Conger and Kanungo’s Model in Organizations

Understanding Conger and Kanungo’s model has practical implications for organizations:

Identifying Charismatic Potential:

Organizations can recognize and nurture individuals with charismatic potential. By fostering their emergence and development, organizations can benefit from the positive impact of charismatic leadership.

Enhancing Charismatic Behaviors:

Leaders can be coached to develop and exhibit charismatic behaviors, such as visionary thinking and emotional connectivity. This can enhance their influence and impact on their teams.

Driving Change and Innovation:

Charismatic leaders can be leveraged to drive organizational change and innovation. Their ability to inspire and motivate followers can facilitate the acceptance and pursuit of new ideas.

Ethical Considerations:

Conger and Kanungo’s model underscores the importance of ethical behavior in charismatic leaders. Organizations should ensure that charismatic leaders use their influence responsibly and ethically.

Comparison with Other Charismatic Leadership Theories

Conger and Kanungo’s model offers a structured framework that complements other charismatic leadership theories:

House’s Charismatic Leadership Theory:

While House’s theory emphasizes the behavioral characteristics of charismatic leaders, Conger and Kanungo provide a more comprehensive model that includes the emergence and impact stages.

Weber’s Charismatic Authority:

Max Weber’s concept of charismatic authority focuses on the extraordinary and supernatural qualities of leaders. Conger and Kanungo’s model provides a more practical and observable framework.

Bass’s Transformational Leadership Theory:

Bass’s theory shares similarities with Conger and Kanungo’s model, particularly in the emphasis on visionary thinking and emotional connectivity. However, Bass’s theory may encompass a broader range of leadership behaviors.


Conger and Kanungo’s Three-Stage Charismatic Leadership Model provides a valuable framework for understanding the emergence, behavior, and impact of charismatic leaders. By recognizing the distinct stages that charismatic leaders progress through, organizations can effectively identify, develop, and leverage charismatic leadership to drive change, innovation, and exceptional performance. This model contributes to our understanding of the dynamic nature of charismatic leadership and its potential to transform followers and organizations.


  • Stage 1: The leader critically evaluates the status quo.
  • Stage 2: The leaders formulate and articulate future goals and a idealized future vision.
  • Stage 3: The leader shows how the goals and vision can be achieved.
  • If leaders use behaviors such as vision articulation, environmental sensitivity, and unconventional behavior, followers will attribute charismatic leadership to them.
  • Charismatic leadership relative to close-up and at-a-distance leaders.
    • Both types of leaders are viewed as charismatic but possess quite different traits and behaviors.