While working on the second movie review for PSYCH 485, our team chose to examine the transformational style of leadership in regards to the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963). One of my tasks for this assignment was to analyze how JFK’s charisma made him a great leader through the characteristics of his personality, his actions, and effects on his followers (Northouse, 2013). Admittedly, having vastly inspirational one-liners such as, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” to work with, it was not an overly difficult task.
Interestingly, it was through the course of researching JFK’s charisma that I also found an opposing point of view; one that is not often expressed: that JFK’s charisma is really what clouded our collective judgment, and he was ultimately granted a significant amount of leniency by the history books in the way he handled certain events. Part of this might also have to do with the tragic and mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, but the case can definitely be made for his charisma getting him out of hot water more than once.
For instance, some critics believe that JFK was greatly lacking in experience, as evidenced by the way that he handled the Bay of Pigs invasion (which arguably lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis), the construction of the Berlin Wall by Nikita Khrushchev and the events leading up to it, as well as approving the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem – who was a staunch opponent of communism (Boot, 2013; Dallek, 2013). Some critics also regarded him as the worst president of the 20th century, “stumbling from crisis to fiasco” (Dallek, 2013). Yet another critic does not make light of his shortcomings, but rather emphasizes his grace under pressure by “staying calm, gathering information, and acting without precedent” (Loftus, 2013).
Regardless of what you chose to believe, JFK’s fate was sealed in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. Personally, I believe that even in the short amount of time that he was President, JFK proved himself to be one of the best that we have ever had. The Cold War was not a period in foreign affairs or politics that was rife with easy decisions. Like many Presidents, JFK sometimes lead us down a rocky road, but he greatly inspired us in the process – and continues to inspire us. However, the lesson that should be noted that for future reference is that a leader’s charisma has the tendency to be a two-sided coin – it can be as powerful as a catalyst that forcefully inspires a generation, or it can potentially be what persuades them into backing the wrong horse.
Boot, M. (2013, November 22). JFK’s Legacy: The Charisma Fallacy. Commentary Magazine. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/11/22/jfks-legacy-the-charisma-fallacy/
Dallek, R. (2013, November 21). Kennedy’s Legacy of Inspiration. The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/opinion/kennedys-legacy-of-inspiration.html?ref=opinion&_r=1&
Loftus, G. (2013, November 20). JFK: Myth Or Great Leader?. Forbes. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffloftus/2013/11/20/jfk-myth-or-great-leader/
Northouse, P. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.