In most cases, there is one person, typically the founder, at the top of the cult's structure, and decision making centers in him.
These leaders typically have the following characteristics.
Cult leaders are self-appointed, persuasive persons who claim to have a special mission in life or to have special knowledge. For example, leaders of flying-saucer cults often claim that beings from outer space have commissioned them to lead people to special places to await a spaceship. Other leaders claim to have rediscovered ancient ways to produce enlightenment or cure disease, while yet others claim to have developed inventive scientific, humanistic, or social plans that will lead followers to "new levels" of awareness, success, or personal and political power.
Cult leaders tend to be determined and domineering and are often described as charismatic. These leaders need to have enough personal drive, charm, or other pulling power to attract, control, and manage their flocks. They persuade devotees to drop their families, jobs, careers, and friends to follow them. Overtly or covertly, in most cases they eventually take over control of their followers' possessions, money, and lives.
Cult leaders center veneration on themselves. Priests, rabbis, ministers, democratic leaders, and leaders of genuinely altruistic movements keep the veneration of adherents focused on God, abstract principles, or the group's purpose. Cult leaders, in contrast, keep the focus of love, devotion, and allegiance on themselves. In many cults, for example, spouses are forced to separate or parents forced to give up their children as a test of their devotion to their leader.