Romanticized Leadership of Malcolm X: Leadership Qualities and Attributes

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There are various reasons as to why one may be regarded as a leader; the term leadership is faced with the ambiguity of definition (Pfeffer, 1977). In regards to the chosen theoretical perspective, it would be argued that the more effective leaders may be trained or selected or the situation configured to offer for an enhanced leader through the analysis of the style of leadership, characteristics and behaviour. Charismatic leadership produces escalated self-worth and self-esteem for the leader escalated collective efficacy of the entire group and self-efficacy both the identification with the entire group and the leader and the internalization of the values (Gardner & Avolio, 1998). This type of leadership depends on the whole situation that surround the leader, for instance, behaviour, identity, culture, followers identity as well as all the group entwined. This essay analyzes Malcolm X’s leadership and the reasons why his leadership is regarded as effective.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was born in an America where the environment was dominated by white supremacy and racism. Seen in his biography, he was charged with larceny and sentenced to imprisonment for a decade. Though he dropped out of school, (Mason High School), he made efforts to bridge that gap while still in jail through involvement on class debates and reading. Leadership in his life was brought out in various stage. For instance, a class president while at school a leader in prison, a leader in the streets, a spokesman of the Nation of Islam and the last leadership stage being pan-Africanism. Besides his qualities and characteristic, Marable (2011), described him as a natural born leader in regards to his biography. First, Malcolm X’s incessant drive as well as the ability to order or command his followers by repeating the pet themes and speaking rapidly to overtop other (Marable, 2011). Given the social context during this time Malcolm X’s leadership was characterized with assertiveness harping and combativeness, which fitted the situation as well as the people he operated. His followers appreciated his strength, vigor and intelligence.

Romanticized leadership

The idea of a business leader as well as the ideals and value exercised in the leadership concept, seem to bring out a different connection to the ethical. There is hardly any neutral functionary, and the leader ought to compound the authority of office with charismatic and authority (Wray-Bliss 2015). The work of a leader is to enthrall, inspire and seduce his/her followers. Wray-Bliss (2015) highlights that leadership has a significantly romanticized and had a mythological status, which goes beyond the usual constraints of the scientific inquiry. Therefore, every leader ought to be endowed with qualities of a superhuman as that is the only way they would really be perceived as a leader, both respected and accepted. Leadership is a repository of anxieties, hopes, desires and aspirations, not least around the ethical. Beyond the mere policy or rule to follow, a leader offers the mission, vision, values and ethics for their followers or organization (Wray-Bliss, 2015).

Malcolm X was very inspirational hence able to capture the desires and seduce his followers. For instance, his aspect of movements was seen to acquire masses of followers, whereby he was capable of changing the thoughts and lives of people. From all walks of life, Malcolm x was able to motivate his people. Characterized by audacity and defiance, Malcolm X made the black Americans acquire their pride (Graaf, 2016). During his time, America was entangled in a crisis, and the black Americans faced racism, victimization and oppression from the ruling class. The black Americans or African Americans sought a leader who would give them hope which Malcolm X provided. Such a situation of the crisis was a significant influence in his mode of leadership.

The romanticized leadership conception proposes that every leader ought to have the capability of controlling and influencing their organization’s fate when they are in charge. According to Meindl, Ehrlich and Dukerich (1985), this form of assumption of the responsibility and control leadership engenders is double-edged first implying the giving of credit for the positive outcomes and second for laying the blame or accountability for the negative ones. Example of a positive outcome for Malcolm X was his achievement in helping the black Muslims acquire their civil rights. Additionally, he stood up and confronted racist authorities and became a model for the Black Panther Party (BPP), a national organization with groups from BPP in over 15 states and which showed success in 1967 (Graaf, 2016). Secondly he laid the blame on Elijah Muhammad for being corrupt and hypocritical.

Leadership qualities and attributes

Another reason why Malcolm X was a leader is his leadership qualities and attributes. Malcolm X was associated with both the characteristic of flexibility and open-mindedness (BIrd, 2013). In his most of his speeches, Malcolm X would embrace change which was evident in the transition of his leadership stages, at school, on the streets, in prison and lastly as the spokesman for the Nation of Islam alongside the International Pan African leadership. He avoided errors by the application of critical thinking alongside the revision of his perceptions accordingly. For example among his speeches, he asserted that regardless of his convictions, he made every effort to face the facts as well as accept the reality of life (Graaf, 2016). This as Malcolm X explained, was based on the reasoning that new experiences are unfolded by new knowledge. In the same speech, Malcolm X drew his point home by bringing out that throughout his life, he kept open-mindedness at the forefront as a base to his flexibility.

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A second leadership quality demonstrated in Malcolm X’s biography was his courage and confidence. For instance, in his time in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X confronted Elijah Muhammed, whereby he disagreed with him after the realization of his hypocritical and corrupt ways. The outcome was leaving the Nation of Islam and commencing his Muslim Mosque Inc (MMI) and The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) (Graaf, 2016). Malcolm X would always and readily confront injustice and inequality with what he deemed to be true. Despite Muhammed threats of killing him and making the environment hostile for him, Malcolm X never backed away from his plans of advocating for justice and equality. When Malcolm X was assassinated he was in the middle of giving a speech located in a ballroom despite Muhammed’s threats.

Authentic leadership

To some extent Malcolm X practiced authentic leadership. Authentic leadership style is one that refuses to appreciate or acknowledge one’s imperfections and regardless of the confirmations to seeking the core self, or other one’ true this leadership privilege organizational/collective self over an individual self (Ford & Harding, 2011). Therefore, authentic leadership hampers subjectivity to the follower and the leader. In his early years, Malcolm X was a collective leader he refused to acknowledge what some people believed to be imperfections as a Black Muslim and strived to fight for the rights of all.

Charismatic leadership

Leaders may be named as charismatic for various reasons. One reason is that they lead the people or the organization away from a disaster or risk and by virtue of a visionary approach where the turnaround is implemented (Bryman, 1993). Malcolm X’s leadership depicted a visionary approach assisting black Americans in acquiring their freedom and independence alongside halting oppression of the black Americans by white supremacists. This was regardless of the concern that arose from his status as a Black Muslim. At times these leaders gain their reputation due to a distinctive tactics in their organization as well as gaining a personal following. Though most people contested against Malcolm X’s violent tactics and approaches when tackling racism, they barely denied his commitment or fight and stood for oppression and injustice of the blacks Americans.

Charismatic leaders tend to experience great loyalty from their followers. Such resolute devotion or commitment is owed to these leaders due to their mission and exceptional characteristics (Bryman et al, 1993). Weber and Bryman (1993) explained that a charismatic leader is one who men do not obey by virtue of a tradition or a statute, but their belief for him. The commitment of his followers come from their admiration of his qualities and persona. Malcolm X had loyal followers and supporters who loved his courage in confronting the immorality of corruption with the truth. Rather than collaborating with Elijah Muhammad, he took a different path and resigned from the Nation of Islam. People loved him for the ethics-based authenticity that allowed him to continue with his principles as well as policies of transforming both the collective self and also to acquire justice for all.

Creating impression

The visionary approach for charismatic leadership is highly controversial though, for the ultimate good of his followers. A charismatic leader should seek to act in unconventional ways, for instance through idealized visions with the intent of acquiring desired identity images such as trustworthiness and credibility and morally worthiness (Gardner & Avolio, 1998). Impressive management involves a ubiquitous aspect of social behavior. By risking his/her life for the vision as well as course they owe the people. Malcolm X openly confronted the ruling class and made a speech in a way that many considered to threaten American society. The primary reason why his followers trusted and became loyal to him was his self-sacrificing qualities and the trait that he was not in any way motivated by financial rewards, but rather his vision about the Nation of Islam. They loved him because he showed commitment to the cause.


In conclusion, despite the ambiguity surrounding the concept of leadership, it was argued that it would be shaped through training, selecting or configured in the environment or situation. Nowhere in his biography was it documented that Malcolm X was trained to be a leader. Instead people chose him and his environment or other the situation, (black crisis ad American crisis) became a primary driver. Though leadership has been said to be highly romanticized, Malcolm X has shown an excellent example of a leader. According to his biography he had an incessant drive and ability to order or command people and spoke rapidly to overtop them. Additionally, he had the necessary qualities such as courage, flexibility and open-mindedness. He also had the courage and confidence to confront the oppressive and corrupt ruling class like Elijah Muhammed. Malcolm X practiced authentic and charismatic leadership.


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  2. Bryman, A. (1993). Charismatic leadership in business organizations: Some neglected issues. The Leadership Quarterly, 4(3-4), 289-304.
  3. Ford, J., & Harding, N. (2011). The impossibility of the ‘true self’of authentic leadership. Leadership, 7(4), 463-479.
  4. Gardner, W. L., & Avolio, B. J. (1998). The charismatic relationship: A dramaturgical perspective. Academy of management review, 23(1), 32-58.
  5. Graaf, A. (2016). Powerful Patterns of Persuasion: Reading the Activist Autobiography Social Movement Techniques and the African-American Literary Tradition in the Life Narratives of Black Nationalists Malcolm X, James Forman and Angela Davis, 1965-1975.
  6. Marable, M. (2011). Malcolm X: A life of reinvention. Penguin.
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  8. Pfeffer, J. (1977). The ambiguity of leadership. Academy of management review, 2(1), 104-112.
  9. Weil, D. (2001). Postmodern Reflections on Market Civilization, Identity Politics. Taboo, 5(1).
  10. Wray-Bliss, E. (2015). Leadership, ethical sovereignty and the politics of property. In The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations (pp. 232-246).

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