Ronald Riggio, the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology and former director of the Kravis Leadership Institute, was among the panelists on HuffPost Live on Sept. 17, discussing, "The Cult of Personality." The conversation paid particular attention to instances when religious or prominent political leaders use their charisma to build a legion of followers.
This was Riggio's second appearance on HuffPost Live; he was a panelist for an Aug. 14 discussion called, "Women on Board," about the dearth of female corporate board members. HuffPost's Josh Zepps moderated the Sept. 17, Cult of Personality panel, asking such questions as: When does a cult leader go too far? What is the tipping point for a cult? And, can large doses of charisma be corrupting?
The subject was topical, with the recent passing of Sun Young Moonfounder of the Unification Churchand the opening in theaters this week of The Master, which many have said is inspired by the life of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.
According to Riggio, at their core, charismatic individuals are just brilliant and effective communicators.
"They're able to make a personal connection with people," he said during the segment. "That's basically it. It's a skill set; a set of tools. And the research on charisma, what differentiates the dark side from the bright side, is whether they're using their charismatic authority for personal gain or for more socialized gain for the greater good of the group."
"You can usually spot the cults because they require a detachment from family members," Riggio said. "They tell you that you can't be connected to your family members because they're not believers. You're creating this intense symbiotic relationship between the cult leaders and the followers."
In addition to his position at CMC, Riggio blogs regularly for Psychology Today, and is the author of more than 100 books, book chapters, and research articles in the areas of leadership, assessment centers, organizational psychology and social psychology. He is an associate editor of The Leadership Quarterly, and is on the editorial boards of Leadership, Leadership Review, Group Dynamics, and the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. He was the originator of the Shoptalk column at the Los Angeles Times, a Q&A column dealing with workplace problems/issues.