Charles Manson: The Importance of Leadership

Everybody starts out as a cute cuddly baby. Image from

Abundant ink has been spilled on the subject of leadership. When we think of leaders we imagine George Washington on the battlefield, John F. Kennedy facing down the Soviets, Steve Jobs strategizing the concept of the iPhone. Leaders change the world, or at least have strong influence on their corner of it.

While many of us idolize leaders, many researchers warn us of the dark sides of leadership. This often leads us to think of Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin, or James Bolger. Likely few of us would think to identify Charles Manson as a leader, but in a perverse way, he was. Hopefully few would wish to emulate him, but there are still profound lessons to be learned from Charles Manson and his charismatic style of dark leadership. He made drastic mistakes that led to a life in prison, but then again, many leaders spent some time there, including St. Paul, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Here we have Charles Manson as a pimply, dimpled fourteen year old. The dreamy Elvis look in his eyes belies the adult cult following that would come thirty years later. Image from A&E

In this post I’m going to discuss two positive leadership traits of Manson, and the big flaw that brought him down in my humble opinion.

  • 1) Say what you will, the man had a vision and was able to get people to follow that vision.
  • 2) Charles Manson was persistent, and persevered in the face of adversity.
  • 3) Unfortunately, in the end Manson failed to exhibit the self confidence needed to truly overcome the adversity he faced.
A happy 21 year old Charles Manson, fresh out of prison and with high hopes of a better life, marries waitress Rosalie Willis. The marriage lasted three years, Rosalie filed for divorce when Charles landed in jail while she was pregnant. Image from

Why is it that we remember Charles Manson when so many crimes from the sixties have been forgotten? Part of it, of course, is the fame of the victims. That he targeted the rich elites and not merely the poor of the streets. All the drugs and sex and rock & roll made it glamorous. But I think another part of the mythos is the fact that Manson had a vision. It was a crazed, warped, wtf vision. But he had a vision.

Yes….we knew Manson was a cult leader and serial killer…but here we see he was also a litter bug! I was willing to forgive him before, but this is just too much! Damn him to hell! Image from

Charles Manson’s vision was that there was about to be a race/civil war in the US, and the blacks would win. While this didn’t happen, looking at all the riots at the end of the sixties, the idea may not have seemed so far fetched. And while the blacks were (are) oppressed, it could be argued that that very oppression might be their advantage. Well armed blacks toughened by hard labor in a war against soft white collar whites….Ceteris paribus I know which side my money is on. But we were spared, if only for a time.

Rare image of Charles Manson at Dennis Wilson’s house. Likely he is singing “Good Vibrations.” Possibly “I Wish They All Could be California Girls.” Image from Reddit.

“Ok Tired Blogger, of course, he had a twisted vision. But what do you mean he persisted against adversity? He caved like a scared rabbit when the police arrested him! Plus according to the Youtube documentary, he was “scared shitless” when he shot a member of the Black Panthers and thought he’d killed him. Some believe that is when he panicked and started making real mistakes.”

Point taken. But hear me out…imagine the little boy pictured above. His tough uncle is yelling at him for being a weakling and sissy. He tells him he needs the “old-time religion” to “honor his father and mother.” The uncle drags the boy kicking and screaming, to an edifice that looks like one of Sauron’s dungeons.

McMechen prison, where Charles Manson’s mother Kathleen Maddox was incarcerated through several years of his childhood. Originally used as a Civil War prison camp, this somber house of horrors had to have some influence on how the boy’s mind was shaped. Image and info from
Ya didn’t think I’d let a post go by without some snarky meme or other did ya? Only in Charles Manson’s timeline, maybe he would have become Neo….the world will never know.

Twice he escaped from this school. The first time he returned to his mother, who just sent him back. The second time, he set out on his own. But he kept true to two of his dreams through the fifties and into the sixties. He dreamt of reconnecting with his mother. He visited her multiple times, the last time was in the sixties when he had already gathered his own cult following. And he remained true to his dream of being a pimp, becoming perhaps the ultimate pimp. His manipulative, hypnotic influence caused broken young women to not only sleep with men for money, drugs, or to seduce them into his web of deceit, but also he had the ability to order them to murder without feeling a twinge of guilt. Between his girls, his theft, and possible CIA provisions of free drugs, he was able to manage a cult of up to a hundred people for two years in the burgeoning hippy scene.

How’s that for leadership?

And let’s not forget, he managed to survive till he was 83 in prison. For all those that say he was weak (and yeah, in a lot of ways he was) I don’t think I’d make it till 83 if I went to prison.

Charles Manson and followers arrested for the famous Tate murders. Image from

“Ok Tired Blogger, he was a great leader. But he spent the last fifty years of his life in prison. What was his tragic flaw?”

I’m so glad you asked. His tragic flaw was cowardice. I can hear most of you now, saying it was his lack of empathy or his massive hubris or the fact that he was literally psychotic. And likely these things played a role. But with his tenacity, I think he could have overcome all of that if he hadn’t been such a coward.

I used to feel disgusted by this image…but according to Twitter (and nobody on Twitter would ever lie), this is not Jesus hugging Trump. It is the ghost of Charles Manson. Who is it really supposed to be? Either way, it is a frightening image to me. If anyone can lead me to the truth of it, please leave comments.

It was fear of someone stronger that led him to succumb to his threatening fundamentalist relatives when he should have pursued music. It was fear of rejection by a woman (just like his mother) that led him to desire to be a pimp instead of being a good husband and lover to his wife. It was fear of the blacks and of the chaos of the late sixties that led him to his terrible vision. It was fear of the Black Panthers that led him to panic and decide he had to commit murders and pin them on the Panthers. In the end, he was too much of a coward to do the killings himself.

In the end, I think most of us have loathsome, disgusting qualities that scare us. Thoughts, feelings, habits, tendencies. My Criminal Profiling professor claimed we are all more alike than we are different. And as repelled as most of us are (and deservedly so) by serial killers and cult figures, I think more of us than would like to admit feel a connection to the dark side. No….we couldn’t do what Manson did. Most of us would vomit to see a dead body. Most of us are disgusted by pimps and manipulative narcissists. But yet we watch crime shows, cop shows, the CSI franchise is such a juggernaut they might as well partner with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and take over the world.

Charles Manson nearing the end, posing with his fiancée. I don’t know….I think she just thought angry Swastika Santa was hot. Image from the NY Post.

Since he loved music, I think a musical tribute to him would be fitting:

A lonely child/ alone and wild/ a conman’s wanton son/his hands were meant for gruesome work and his heart was known to none/ He left his mom and went his lone and solitary way/ He gave Hollywood/ Terror when his women did obey

Complaining child of music/denied a simpler fate/ He tried to be a pander once/ But the prison wouldn’t wait/ He earned his love through LSD, a madman’s foolish scam/ His wicked means of sculpting souls we’ll never understand.

The leader of the band has died and his lies are so damned old, but the blood used as an instrument/ made us scream within our souls/ My blog has made a poor attempt to illustrate the man/ We are the living legacy to the leader of the band…

You don’t think our leaders learned their trade from Manson? Just ask this guy…..oh wait…we can’t because he is dead. Well, nothing to see here citizen, move along.
I’ll admit I’ve only listened to a few of his songs. For my money, this is the best that I have listened to. You’d never know if you didn’t know, that this was Manson. “Look down at me and you see a fool, look up at me and you see a god, look straight at me and you see yourself.”

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