What’s the Big Idea?
In Economy and Society, Max Weber distinguished between traditional, rational-legal, and charismatic modes of authority. The third is based upon the perception of believers that a particular individual possesses extraordinary qualities.
"Charismatic authority," notes Wallis (1993:176) "is a fundamentally precarious status" because leaders' claims to authority rest "purely on subjective factors." Followers' perception of the leader's extraordinary qualities may be situated and ephemeral. The charismatic leader must continually face the prospect that his special "gift of grace" will no longer be perceived and his authority will fade
Charismatic leaders must continually be on the alert for threats to their authority from outsiders, dissidents, and rivals within the movement as well as from their administrative staff.
Lacking both immediate restraints and long-term supports, a charismatic leader will be inclined to protect his or her position by attempting to "simplify" the group's internal environment to eliminate sources of dissension, normative diversity, and alternative leadership.
References: R. Wallis, "Charisma and Explanation," Secularism, Rationalism and Sectarianism , ed. E. Barker et al. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993): 167-179