Character, Not Charisma, Is The Critical Measure of Leadership

By Sankar, Y.

Charisma is not connected to ethics, moral literacy, mentoring or the design of an ethical culture for the organization by the leader. It is the character of the leader that is connected to these elements of a leader's behavior. Leadership, variously and however defined, has been well researched. Leadership, especially since the end of the last world war, has become the object of intensive and extensive scrutiny. The tendency is to concentrate the study under the rubric of psychology so there has come about a certain specialization and monopolization: what we might call the psychologizing of leadership. What began in antiquity as a profoundly philosophical concern - how to find the guardian - has become demythologized, secularized, empiricized, democratized, and psychologized, and now flourishes as a thickly tangled web where the notions of values, ethics, and morality have been leached away, ignored, or depreciated as irrelevant (Hodgkinson, 1993).

The underlying value system of an organization cannot be managed in the traditional way. Issuing an authoritative directive, for example, has little or no impact on an organization's value system. Organizational values are developed and reinforced primarily through value based leadership, a relationship between a leader and followers that is based on shared, strongly internalized values that are advocated and acted upon by the leader. Leaders influence cultural and ethical values by clearly articulating a vision for organizational values that employees can believe in, communicating the vision throughout the organization, and institutionalizing the vision through everyday behavior, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols, as well as through organizational systems and policies (Daft, 2002).

Charisma focuses on personality attributes such as dynamism, style, image, inspiration, symbolic behaviors (House, 1977) impression management, emotional intelligence (Coleman, 1998), extroverted style, self-confidence, empathetic understanding, and admiration for articulating a vision (Shamir, 1995). Leaders whose personalities are characterized by a high degree of narcissism are driven by intense needs for power and prestige. The use of coercive power, intimidation, and deception are some of the strategies used to enhance the power visibility of these charismatic leaders. As seen by most researchers, charisma is not a concept that is feasible in today's modern workplace. Charisma draws its motivational power from the followers' adoption of the transcendent mission of the leader and their belief in the divine source of this transcendence.

The dark side of charisma is essentially a crisis in character or character flaws of the charismatic leader, which neutralize his/her core value of integrity and his search for excellence. Charismatic leaders can be prone to extreme narcissism that leads them to promote highly self-serving and grandiose aims. As a result, the leader's behaviors can become exaggerated, lose touch with reality, or become vehicles for pure personal gain. In turn, they may harm the leader, followers, and the organization. House et al (1991) have gone so far as to speculate that there is a unique set of personality characteristics and behaviors that distinguish these positive and negative forms of charismatic leadership - are as they term them, socialized and personalized charisma. Their theory holds that although the socialized charismatic leader has a high need for power, it is counterbalanced with high activity inhibition, low authoritarianism, an internal locus of control, high self-esteem, and low Machiavellianism. In contrast, the personalized leader has a high need for power that is instead coupled with low activity inhibition, high authoritarianism, an external locus of control, low self-esteem, high narcissism, and high Machiavellianism. These characteristics promote leadership behavior that is largely self-service.

Character is based on the core values of the leader. Character influences his/her vision, goals, self-concept, strategies, work ethic, attitude, perception, code of ethics, behavior, and the search for excellence (Sankar, 1997). Character, therefore is an evaluation of personality. Becker (1998) grounds character of the leader on integrity 'Good character' means at least in part, that the individual has integrity. This is directly related to performance on the job.

Zauderer (2000) identifies specific behaviors of a leader associated with integrity as a super ordinate value on which character is rooted. How does one's integrity affect the trust of others and the strength of the commonwealth? In attempting to identify specific behaviors, a far-reaching search of literature that included religion, philosophy, biographies of great leaders, psychology, and business and government ethics was conducted. Cross-cutting moral themes and principles were identified and described in the following list: (The behaviors are expressed in a negative form - the opposite behavior follows in parentheses and italics) A leader's integrity is compromised when he or she: displays arrogance (possess humility), promotes self-interest (maintain concern for the greater good), practices deception (be truthful), breaches agreements (fulfill commitments), deals unfairly (strive for fairness), shifts blame (take responsibility), diminishes dignity (have respect for the individual), retains envy (celebrate the good fortune of others), neglects employee development (develop others), avoids risks (reproach unjust acts), holds grudges (be forgiving), declines to extend self (extend self for others).

A strategy based on integrity holds organizations to a more robust standard. While compliance is rooted in avoiding legal sanctions, organizational integrity is based on the concept of self-governance in accordance with a set of guiding principles (Paine, 2000). From the perspective of integrity, the task of ethics management is to define and give life to an organization's guiding values, to create an environment that supports ethically sound behavior, and to instill a sense of shared accountability among employees. An integrity strategy is characterized by a conception of ethics as a driving force of an enterprise and the leader. Ethical values shape the search for opportunities, the design of organizational systems, and the decision-making process used by individuals and groups. Kets de Vries (1994) connects some sub-values of a leader's character. Among the traits that have been discerned regularly among effective leaders are conscientiousness, dependability, achievement orientation, dominance, self-confidence, energy, agreeableness, intelligence, openness to experience, and emotional stability.

The current ethical - moral crisis in many occupations, business law, medicine, politics, and education can be partially attributed to the absence of moral leadership in these occupations. The crisis is a crisis of character. Many charismatic leaders suffer from basic flaws in their character and these impact on their vision, goals, strategies, judgment, choices, ground rules and behavior. The character of the leader is the building block or root system of his/her personality and of leadership excellence. Excellence unlike efficiency and effectiveness is a value based construct, it is the ethical ground rules of the leader that guide his vision, style, commitment, and the design of the corporate culture. Character is the missing critical variable in leadership research.

The leader can be a mentor or role model because of his/her character not his charisma. Mentoring is a value-based concept. The leader's credibility as a mentor is enhanced by her core values, ethical vision, moral commitment and her conception of her duty to organizational members. A leader's behavior speaks louder than his personality. Behavior is a function of values. To change problematic behaviors, such as mistrust, malice, manipulation, deceit, etc…, on changes such values as egoism, power obsessions, and greed. One practices one's moral calculus or virtues in the search for effective mentoring.

Virtue based ethics is the moral guidance system for changing the negative elements of one's character (MacIntyre, 1985). Character is grounded on virtues such as love, integrity, duty, patience, compassion, peace, fortitude, trust, truth and right conduct. Charisma is not connected to virtue-based ethics but to personality ethic focusing on etiquette, courtesy, style, image and dynamism. Character leads to transformation of one's personality, primarily to self-transformation of needs, self-concept, habits, moods, values, attitudes, perception, goals and style. Values or virtues are also the building blocks of a leader's self concept and therefore her self esteem and self confidence are more positive than if these were based on elements of charisma - image, style, and dynamism. As a mentor, the leader with a virtuous character will promote empowerment of his/her followers rather than a culture of silence because of intimidation and the coercive use of power and deception.

The moral intelligence, insight and imagination of a leader are connected to his character not charisma. What the CEO needs today in the business world is not more information but transformation, transformation of his vision, goals, intelligence, core values and behavior. The transformational leader is one who couples information with insight and ideals. Moral literacy consists of the basics of ethics, ethical principles, rules of conduct, conceptions of right and wrong, moral intelligence, imagination and moral commitment to our moral heritage and ground rules for decision-making. Moral literacy is connected to character, not to charisma. It is from moral literacy that a leader can articulate the core values that drive his or her vision and the ABC of ethics namely, the essentials of an ethical culture of his or her organization.

Leadership is crucial to the organization's ethical culture, as integrity (or the lack of it) flows from the top down. According to a report from the Business Roundtable, a group of senior executives from major American corporations, leadership is crucial to organizational ethics. The report issued by the Business Roundtable - also - discussed ethics, policy, and practice in one hundred member companies, including GTE, Xerox, Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, and Hewlett-Packard. In the experience of the surveyed companies, the single most important factor in ethical decision-making was the role of top management in providing commitment, leadership, and example for ethical values.

This article contributes to our understanding of leadership excellence by providing a more comprehensive focus on two variables, namely, character and charisma, than previous research. Another contribution of this article is the integration of ethics, personality and mentoring literature. Finally, the greatest contribution of our research may well be the generation of future research. In future research, an attempt should be made to further define the elements of the key construct, namely, character in terms of core values.

The leader plays a critical role in the propagation of an ethical culture within his/her organization. In view of the ethical-moral crisis in many occupations it can be deduced that this crisis is indicative of the absence of moral leadership in these organizations. Too often, the emphasis has been placed on the expertise, power, charisma, information, personality traits, strategic vision, and organizational characteristics in leadership research at the expense of the leader's moral character. The leader's character is a strategic source of power for in fusing the culture of his/her organization with a code of ethics, moral vision, imagination, and courage. Leadership excellence cannot be evaluated without an assessment of the leader's character.
Reference: Sankar, Y. (2003). Character not charisma is the critical measure of leadership excellence. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 9, No 4.