10 Far-out Charismatic Leaders (and the Trouble They Caused)

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Adolf Hitler
Millions of Germans viewed Adolf Hitler almost like a god. Photos.com/Thinkstock
Millions of Germans viewed Adolf Hitler almost like a god. Photos.com/Thinkstock

Adolf Hitler wasn't a sociable person. He was a quirky kid who left school at 16 to become a painter in Vienna, at which he failed miserably. He had problems forming intimate relationships and couldn't engage in an intellectual debate. Plus, he had loads of prejudices. Yet after joining the fascist German Workers' Party (later the Nazi Party) in 1919, it only took him two years to become its leader [source: Rees].

It was the perfect storm. The Germans had gotten thrashed in World War I and were poor, starving and humiliated by the terms of their surrender. Hitler swept in promising redemption and salvation in an almost religious manner. He railed against democracy, told the Germans they were Aryans and better than everyone else and spoke out against carefully defined enemies, namely communists and Jews. He had a clear vision, and was determined to convince the universe of his mission -- hallmarks of a charismatic leader. Millions of Germans, predisposed to hear such a message, fell for it, viewing Hitler almost like a god. His staff bought in, too; Hitler, surprisingly, was a kind boss. Soon, the majority of people were following him without question [source: Rees].

Part of Hitler's charisma was his true and utter belief that Germans were great, and that he was "the one" to lead them to take over Europe. It might have seemed that way after he easily conquered several countries in Western Europe but it blinded him to the risks of overreaching. He had the German army invade Russia during World War II, while they were still fighting the British and occupying other countries. He also had the Jewish populations of all the countries he invaded (as well as Germany) rounded up and killed or sent to concentration camps. With the U.S., Britain and Russia closing in on Nazi Germany, Hitler's followers began to become disillusioned. After Germany surrendered in 1945, Hitler committed suicide [source: Rees].