Character and charisma are the traits define the quality and the legacy of a leader – they are both tested times of transition and turbulence …
Occasionally, when I wake up in the wee hours, I may have a scan on You Tube, or listen to an audio book, to distract me from the mostly imaginary trials and tribulations that tend to plague the newbie entrepreneur.
This morning, I found a random talk on YouTube from Jim Rohn about ‘Character and Charisma’. While I rested, the discussion really resonated in the half-sleep of the hour with strange connections to the US presidential transition, the characters and leadership in play there, and indeed the problems, opportunities and transitions facing all of us in this post-pandemic world.
With regards to the ongoing ‘transition du jour’ in the US, I will be the first to admit that I have neither the right, nor the reason, to comment directly. It’s your democracy guys and girls, if you happen to live there! I will therefore use this event merely as a backdrop to the broader concept of leadership and examine the personality traits of character and charisma as they pertain to our complicated little planet.
Growing up with inherited wisdom
Some of you may know of Jim Rohn or more likely know his one-time understudy and protege, Tony Robbins, who has gone on to do very well for himself! Jim Rohn was, in his day, one of the leading self-improvement ‘gurus’ and a superb speaker if you are looking for a role model in this area. What I like about him is his conversational, home-spun way of imparting complex concepts.
Many of us may have heard some of these concepts as kids or teens at home, or possibly in church if that was a part of our upbringing.
When I grew up, we thought ourselves so far ahead of our parents’ generation. As always however, the tendency in the face of complexity, was to run for cover, and to leave these concepts abandoned on the kitchen table with the remains of the day, only to be reconsidered decades later in the light of life’s adventures – but that’s another story.
The magic of wands and chisels
It is often helpful to look at the origins of a word, such as “character” when trying to understand the concept. And it might also be good to look at the origins of another word, “charisma”, that people commonly confuse with “character”. The two really quite different.
Charisma is derived from a Greek word meaning “an ability to elicit favour in other people”. It’s a magnetic quality of personality that people respond to, as if it were magic. If anything, charisma seems like a magic wand that confers power over others.
Character, on the other hand, comes from the Greek word for chisel, or more accurately, the mark of a chisel. A chisel is a sharp steel tool used shaping wood or reveal a sculpture from a hard or difficult material, like granite or marble.
A chisel is also used to strip away waste material from an object, to strip away stuff that might get in the way in order to get down to the essential thing, the essence that really matters. In life, you’ve got to chisel your character out of the raw material, out of yourself, just like a sculptor does to create a statue. The raw material is always there and only has to be revealed to the world.
Distinctions between character and charisma
There is another important distinction between character and charisma that you may already have noticed in both definition and derivation. Character does not refer to other people. It does not refer to having power over other people, or getting other people to follow you, or gaining favour with other people. Character is something that you have, something that you are.
You could be marooned on a desert island and your character would still be important. In fact, it would likely be very important in that situation.
Charisma on the other hand would do you no good at all in a desert island scenario.
Charisma requires the presence of others, while character is all about you.
Character is the person you are, after you’ve chiseled, and chiseled, and gotten past all the unnecessary material to what’s underneath.
Everything that happens to you, good or bad, contributes to building character.
Since we’re usually surrounded by other people, let’s get a little bit more specific about how the differences between a ‘charismatic person’ and a ‘person of character’ can play out in the real world, particularly in leadership situations.
Where leaders can come to grief?
In one of his better presentations, Jim Rohn outlined four sets of circumstances that can occur and make it difficult for the charismatic leader:
- A charismatic person can make people believe there’s “pie in the sky”, or that, “the sky is going to fall tomorrow”, one just as easily as the other. By creating expectations, charismatic individuals can energise and inspire others, or terrify and demotivate them … at least until the overblown scenarios are proven false, and the charisma runs out. But a person of character, doesn’t need to be anyone’s Pied Piper, and generally isn’t comfortable in that role where instead he or she looks within for the true source of inspiration and energy.
- A charismatic person can inspire devoted, or even fanatical, loyalty. But this can all too easily turn into an unconscious sense of dependency and that can make matters difficult when the leader is no longer available. He will leave behind an organisation with a sense of abandonment and a team that may never achieve anything like its prior success. Powerful personalities often resist delegating authority. But it’s an attitude of character for a leader to refrain from making himself, or herself, the indispensable heart and soul of an organisation.
- The third difference between character and charisma is particularly important in a political situation. Charismatic people have to keep pulling “rabbits out of the hat”. The magic of their presence has got to keep expressing itself, or people might start wondering where it went. Or worse yet, in this age of media, people might start to get bored and move on.
- In order to bask in the warm glow of a leader’s approval, people can become reluctant to voice disagreement. In this case, leaders can become isolated because subordinates are afraid of them and this same isolation can occur as a result of misplaced affection. People of character are usually well loved by everyone around them, but they make it clear that their own first love is for the truth, even if it hurts.
Leadership as a continuum
Character and charisma are topics that have been defined, re-defined and debated, for thousands of years from leaders such as Alexander the Great, to the great religious leaders, to the great dictators through famous generals such as Eisenhower, Montgomery and Patton in the World War II, and down to our own corporate and government leadership today.
All leaders tend to display both traits, to a greater or lesser extent, on a scale of one-to-ten, if you will. In the final analysis though, character would seem to be what’s left after charisma is gone. Character would seem to trump charisma in the game of leadership, and legacy – that which is left after the government or business leader departs the stage and, eventually, is gone.
On an individual basis, it is good to remember that in designing your character, or building your business, you too are effectively building your legacy in much the same way as the artist creating a sculpture. Character is not something that “just happens by itself”, any more than a chisel can create a work of art without the hand of an artist to guide it. In both instances, a conscious decision has to be made.
Leadership and you
Character isn’t something you were born with and can’t change like your fingerprints, it’s something you weren’t born with, and that you must take responsibility for making. To paraphrase Jim Rohn, “you can create a better life for yourself, not by crossing continents and oceans to the goldfields of California as they did in the days as in the days of the old West, but by crossing the mountains of your soul, and that may be an even greater challenge”.
Character is not something that you settle for when you haven’t achieved what you really want. And, character certainly is not something that automatically develops in you as a result of adversity. Adversity in itself does not build character and success does not necessarily erode it.
If there is something better at the end of the rainbow we all have a responsibility to take advantage of it.
This is the nature of the human psyche, of life itself … just as the tree stretches to the light.
Isn’t it strange that human beings are the only living things on this planet, as far as we are aware, who meet adversity, sometimes real, more often imagined … and can just decide to stop growing?
You can become a leader
You build character as you respond to what happens in your life whether it’s winning, or losing, every game or any game, getting rich, or dealing with difficult times. You build character out of certain qualities that you yourself must create, and diligently nurture within yourself just as you would plant and water a seed, or gather wood to build a campfire. You find those things in your heart and in your gut.
You can spend a lifetime chiseling away in order to find them, just like chiseling away the marble reveals the beauty of a sculpture that previously existed only in the imagination. The really great thing about character is that if you’re sincerely committed to making yourself into the person you want to be, you will not only create those qualities, you will strengthen them. You will re-create them in abundance even as you’re drawing on them every day of your life and even more amazing, that work may be never ending.
Look for Jim Rohn on YouTube and you will see what I mean … you may even find a gem or two to help you on your journey!
I would love to see your comments below or Subscribe to know more about building your own business and digital lifestyle.