By Paul M. Connolly, Ph.D., President, Performance Programs, Inc.
The following is excerpted from an address given by Dr. Connolly at a convention of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). This excerpt addresses the question of whether the components of charisma can be isolated through measurement, with the goal of providing coaching to develop weak areas. He shows how two instruments, the Clark Wilson Survey of Executive Leadership™ and Hogan Personality Inventory, were used to answer the question.
Some years ago I was working with a customer who I’d jokingly classify as difficult, but seriously describe as one of the brightest, most competent HR practitioners I’ve ever met. We were working on behavioral measures to support his plans for developing high-potential leadership candidates.
Our discussions often led to a topic almost as inscrutable as nature vs. nurture. It’s the topic of personality vs. behavior as the source of one of the most highly effective leadership traits: charisma.
Charisma is the hard-to-define, rare characteristic in a person that causes others to want to listen, to follow, and to perform. It is a magnetic, "pulling toward" characteristic. It is motivating. It is extremely valuable in a leader. But is charisma based on personality factors? Or is it a series of behaviors that, when present in subtle juxtaposition, simply appear to produce a result greater than the sum of parts? One thing seemed certain: charisma is a problem variable.
I leaned towards the argument that charisma was the sum of personality factors and therefore not something that can be improved through training and development. Personality characteristics cannot be taught. In fact, most personality factors are generally well established by adolescence. They change with difficulty, through traumatic life events or concentrated psychotherapy.
The exercise of leadership, I further insisted, consists of actions, the things people do. In other words, the sum of a person’s leadership is equal to the parts of his or her behaviors. Behaviors can be measured and they can be changed through training and development.
My customer wouldn’t let me escape that easily. Many of the candidates in the high potential group we were working with had, in fact, been selected because they exhibited charisma. He believed they could be trained to exert their charisma with greater effectiveness.
He had studied the history of charisma research and made an interesting discovery: Behavioral descriptions of the characteristic all center on enthusiasm, speed of motion, running, jumping, vocal projection, eye contact. In other words, the observable portion of charisma seemed to center on apparent energy level.
Our challenge became clear: Could we isolate the observable, behavioral portion of charisma? Could we develop a measurement that was true to the meaning of charisma and was also true to the principles of good developmental feedback? This question was of such interest to my client that we engaged in special research in an attempt to find out.
We surveyed 135 managers in the organizations ’s high-potential program. The purpose of their training program was to provide them with tools that would enhance their success by emphasizing certain behaviors and skills. They were selected through various means: Some were nominated by their immediate management, some by other management, and a handful were self-nominated. The group went through various processes and assessments, including the two measures we are discussing today, the Clark Wilson Group's Executive Leadership Survey™ and the Hogan Personality Inventory.
For years I had worked with the Task Cycle Model, developed by Clark Wilson, Ph.D., as the research platform for 360-degree behavioral feedback to executives and leaders. We selected Wilson's Executive Leadership survey as the behavioral measurement and added a special Energy dimension with items as a subscale under Drive. I thought the new items would be too closely related to other dimensions, such as Vision. I thought they would provide no new, independent information. I believed they would not factor "cleanly."
I was wrong. Our seven Energy items were more highly related to one another than to anything else in the survey--a sign that we had not only isolated an observable dimension, we had improved our survey. We were now receiving a more complete picture of a high potential’s behavior profile.
This completed one leg of the journey. But would high Energy scores correlate with charisma-related scores on a personality instrument? The Hogan Personality Inventory looks at the charismatic personality through three subscales: No Social Anxiety (gregariousness), Leadership (wanting to be in charge), and Self-confidence (having the wherewithal to move forward).
We felt that if a person was already scoring high on those charisma-related scales, they would benefit from becoming conscious of how others perceive the energy apparent in their behaviors. They could, for instance, learn to project more energy in key situations to improve their effectiveness. They might be encouraged to keep their energy levels high as a matter of greater leadership effectiveness.
Our two selected instruments produced modest but statistically significant correlation on the three charisma-related items:
Correlation between HPI Charisma Measures
The moderate correlation between lack of social anxiety and the desire to be in charge showed that the energy-related behaviors can be tied to personality factors. For the individual who comes to management with these personality assets in place, we could help them see which behaviors might improve their effectiveness.
So, my client was correct. My education was continuing. There was a portion of the phenomenon called charisma that could be quantified, studied, reported and, most importantly, developed.
* We chose the Hogan Assessment Systems series of instruments for this part of the study. The Hogan instruments are mathematically similar to Wilson instruments. Hogan also uses the concept of independent factors. The structural similarity between the two instruments simplifies the search for common touch-points. Hogan Personality Inventory looks at charisma through three subscales: No Social Anxiety (gregariousness), Leadership (wanting to be in charge), and Self-confidence (having the wherewithal to move forward). Comparing scores for the study group, we found the correlation moderate but significant. They generally ranged from .2 to .3. While this may sound low to those familiar with statistical measurement, we were very excited! It is rare for any personality measure to correlate with a behavior measure at more than a .4 level. This is commonly called the Personality Trait Ceiling among psychometricians. They theorize that it is due to self-perception errors.
Demographics of Study Sample
Average Age: 41 (SD=5.8)
Total Sample 135
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Copyright 2010 Paul M. Connolly, Ph.D.