Character Not Charisma Is the Critical Measure of Leadership Excellence

By Sankar, Y. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Character Not Charisma Is the Critical Measure of Leadership Excellence


Sankar, Y., Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


The leadership crisis in ethics in many organizations partially stems from the crisis in character of our leaders. The character of the leader is grounded on such core values as integrity, trust, truth and human dignity, which influence the leader's vision, ethics and behaviour. The moral literacy oft he leader and the essentials of an ethical culture are connected to his/her character and not to his/her charismatic personality. The quest for leadership excellence is based more on character than charisma. The leader is also empowered through his/her character to serve as a mentor.

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But I've always maintained that what made us different, what inculcated values in the organization, was not the technology employed, and that's, I think, a mistake many of my Colleagues and many of my fellow CEOs, and even perhaps some in academia make. There is far too much focus on technology. I would submit to you that in the context of leadership that is value-based, a leader has to be 95 percent psychologist and perhaps five percent technologist. If you don't understand what it is that makes people tick, and you try to force decisions on colleagues, they're not going to follow, and they're not going to internalize values. The whole essence of inculcating values and the whole essence of leadership is making sure the people are truly following you.

-H.A. Tyabji (2000) Executive of the Year (Academy of Management Executive)

The main objective of this article is to stress the importance of character as a critical variable in the study of leadership. A subordinate objective is to focus on the ambiguous construct, charisma, that is current in leadership research, and to show that it is not connected to the quest for leadership excellence. 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 behaviour. The article is organized around a number of focal perspectives, which emphasize these elements of a leader's character, and a conceptual framework, which integrates these elements of character.

Leadership, variously and however defined, has been well researched. On the contrary, it has, especially since the end of the last world war, become the object of intensive and extensive scrutiny. But a curious thing has happened along the way. There has developed a tendency 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 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 behaviour, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols, as well as through organizational systems and policies (Daft, 2002).

Charisma vs. Character

Charisma focuses on personality attributes such as dynamism, style, image, inspiration, symbolic behaviours (House, 1977) impression management, emotional intelligence (Coleman, 1998), extroverted style, self-confidence, empathetic understanding, and admiration for articulating a vision (Shamir, 1995). …

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