Character vs. Charisma in Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Self Leadership

Character-based leadership is leading from who you are, not your position or power. Your character creates true influence, especially when your character also includes being competent.  Your rank in the company or your title doesn’t create real leadership influence, but a substitute influence that manipulates others to do what you want done.  Your true influence comes from the people who volunteer to join you on your quest, from understanding the mission and trusting you have the strategy and the competence to help them get there.

But character is difficult to know and easy to mask.  We often don’t know or even like who we truly are.  For me, the real Mike Henry can be much less than I’d like.  I’m reminded of the line by Frank Cross (Bill Murray’s character) from Scrooged. (It’s at the 9:09 mark in this video.)

It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

Charisma can become a counterfeit for character.  Charisma, defined by Wikipedia as a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, can help character-based leaders.  When a leader has charisma, their charm inspires others.  Charisma works like an emotional intelligence that enables leaders to be graceful in relationships.

But if that charisma masks the truth, it becomes a counterfeit of character.  Our world is one where image matters.  Character-based leaders try to fix the true person, the source of the inspiration, influence and leadership rather than simply trying to mask it.

Character is what’s truly on the inside – the real you.  If we believe in the power of character-based leadership we won’t substitute charisma.  Our character will dictate the charisma.  Maybe we’re not very charismatic.  Character-based leaders don’t need charisma.  Charisma makes a few things easier.  But in the end, true character inspires, especially when bundled with a great idea and excellent execution.  True character creates true influence. To generate influence through any other means is simply manipulation.

True character creates true influence.

So this year, for more than just a couple of hours, I will be the person I always hoped I would be.  I will trust more (and for me that means I will trust Christ more, too).  I’ve got to risk being vulnerable and I’ve got to stick with my plans.  I must resist the temptation to change my mind and my commitment and persist with projects and ideas.  I don’t want to be a quitter.

What about you?  You don’t need permission to lead… you don’t need permission to change the world, if you start with yourself. If you’re going to spend more than just a couple of hours being the person you always hoped you would be, what will you change?  Go ahead, ink it below.  And thank you for reading this blog and being part of this group this year.  I appreciate it.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Stephanie Brown  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Mike, thank you for these inspiring words. Often leaders are too concerned with looking good than their actual message. Not only do people miss the message, but they loose faith and trust in the leader. The following link will lead you to a humourous video titled Charisma. It highlights the importance of being authentic rather than charismatic. LeaderSkilz Video.

Mike Henry  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Stephanie, thanks for the comment and the link. There is a whole different perspective to take about attempting to develop charisma rather than developing character. Faking either can be humorous unless you’re the victim. Thanks again for commenting and sharing the link.


Erin Schreyer  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Such a beautiful post, Mike. Thank you!!

I can think of several charismatic leaders that I would not describe as having great character. Charisma will only get you so far. It’s shallow; not as deep, nor as sustaining as character.

Thanks for writing this post to help us all think about this more. What an important reminder!

Mike Henry  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the comment Erin. I just couldn’t get the quote out of my head. I think we can all spend more time acting like the people we always hoped we would be. To me that’s character. Charisma makes it easier to try to mask the weaknesses in character. In the end, if our character is bad, charisma won’t fix it.

Thanks again. Mike…

Dr. Paul Schempp  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Mike: Very thoughtful blog. Certainly one we can all profit from. The Christmas reference is particularly timely. Thank you!

Mike Henry  |  18 Dec 2011  |  Reply

You”re welcome Paul and thanks for the comment. I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply. Have a great Christmas holiday.

Jon M  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Mike, This is a call to action! And, it is the right one to make. Taking that step as a leader to act the changes desired is crucial. I am in, and I had started to think through the things I want to differently next year. Your post galvanizes my actions more. Thank you! Jon

Mike Henry  |  18 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Belated thanks Jon. I hope to mobilize not just myself. Every winter I think about that quote from Scrooged and I’m challenged. May we both look back next year having spent many more hours as the person we always hoped we would be.


Claire Axelrad  |  15 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Thought provoking. Makes me a bit sad that the world seems to care so much more about charisma than character. But to be an effective (not just popular) leader probably requires both. Thanks for the food for thought.

Mike Henry  |  18 Dec 2011  |  Reply

You’re welcome Claire. I actually think “the world” cares more about character, but we each have to work harder to develop, see and reward character. So the volume of what we “see” is that which is easy, both to see and to produce. Does that make sense? We have to actively pursue and seek out character. Charisma is the defaul substitute when we don’t have the time, energy or resources to develop and purse character. Mike…

Dave Ungar  |  19 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Great, grounding post. I have known many charismatic leaders with no substance. They’re good at delivering a message, good at sounding professional – but I’ve never seen them put their reputations on the line to make a real difference. They want to be liked and they want to keep their positions secure. Nice people, nice to be around (OK, some are evil, but they’re the exceptions) – but I can’t trust that they’ll take a stand when it’s needed. Thanks for the reminder that character is rewarded with respect and influence & charisma carries only a fleeting following.

Mike Henry  |  19 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Thanks Dave for the comment. The more I think about character-based leadership, the more things I find that seem to serve to counterfeit character. We may give our best energy to a leader who substitutes charisma for character, but we’ll be more cautious the next time. Thanks again. Mike…

Page Cole  |  20 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the reminder to do the RIGHT thing by making Character the focus… I think many times leaders become very good at “winging it”, not only when it comes to details, but when it comes to Character. They “wing it” by coasting on personal Charisma rather than being a person whose actions are dictated by Character.

I was reminded of this in Seth Godin’s recent blog about keeping our promises… you can check it out at “Seth’s Blog: The simple first rule of branding and marketing anything (even yourself)”

One simple facet of the truth you just pointed out about Character…A simple concept… make promises, then keep them… character. Thanks for the reminder Mike!

Join The Conversation