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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leadership and “The Teddy Bear Factor”

Written by: on October 25, 2013

The present post modern age presents many new challenges for leaders and leadership.  Old paradigms and definitions that were generally accepted are not as readily and willingly embraced as they used to be. In a world that is increasingly interrelated and rapidly moving forward, there is the pressure on leadership to adapt and change more speedily.  There are greater demands on leadership for higher levels of stress tolerance, divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility (RIGGEO 2011).  No doubt enhanced technology is at a leader’s disposal now than ever before for effectiveness;  nonetheless, new definitions of leadership underline the import of human relationships, long terms interactions, the need for building enduring  trust and empathy that were not necessarily in the mix in conversations relating to effective leadership in the past.  Qualities of effective innovation, integration, the willingness to take risks, the ability to motivate and inspire, a good understanding of interdependence and the need for building new strategic partnerships to confront the challenges that are faced globally, call for the incorporation of added skills in the areas of psychology and cognitive science which are found outside the confines of mere organizational and managerial frameworks (RIGGEO 2011).

The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior In The Human Enterprise by Manfred Kets de Vries is a classic handbook addressing this very issue in leadership bringing a new perspective on “leadership and the dynamics of individual and organizational change.” (KETS DE VRIES 2006, vi).  The book is loaded with information and practical helps for leadership development from the above stand point,  essentially making it a personal handbook for leaders.

I was particularly drawn to Kets de Vries’ rather amusing but striking description of charismatic leaders as those who possess ‘the teddy bear factor’.  The following quote from the book more or less summarizes much of what the book contains and also captures the essence of the leadership model that is most needed in the contemporary world. One doesn’t necessarily associate leadership with cuddly teddy bears.  But here it is:  apart from the capacity to build alliances, charismatic leaders are able to do what it takes to make people feel valued.  Their actions exude empathy and they are able to rise up to all organizational expectations through an exemplary lifestyle that does not contradict in any way or form whatever they say.  Kets De Vries goes on to describe: “Furthermore, they possess what I call “the teddy bear factor” – that is, they make people feel comfortable.  Because they’re an excellent “container” of other people’s emotions, they put people at ease (KETS DE VRIES 2006, 202).”  This description certainly goes against the grain of what generally is perceived as charismatic leadership.  But then he proceeds to discuss the success that it does bring to individual leadership and to an organization:  “Taken in combination, the challenging of the status quo, the creation of hope, the dramatization of risk, the manipulation of symbols, the setting of a right example, and the teddy bear factor – create an organizational ambience that encourages exceptional effort, high commitment, intellectual stimulation, the belief in self-efficacy, and a willingness to take risks. (KETS DE VRIES 2006, 203)”

The following are a few questions that I raise:

Is a person born with charisma?  Would most leaders who inspire us possess such charisma?  Is having that Charisma what makes them stand out?

What essential characteristics should every leader possess and manifest?

What could be some traits that could stand as a hindrance to their success?

Do I have what it takes to be a considered a charismatic leader?

KETS DE VRIES, Manfred. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior In The Human Enterprise. London: Prentice Hall, 2006.

RIGGEO, Ronald E. Cutting Edge Leadership. 2011. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201210/what-is-charisma-and-charismatic-leadership (accessed October 22, 2013).

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Sam Stephens

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