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CHARISMATIC MOMENT ARCHIVES: Can 360 Feedback Help Executives Develop Charisma?

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 goals of providing coaching to develop weak areas. He shows how two instruments, the Survey of Executive Leadership from Clark Wilson Group 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.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool behaviorist, I insisted that while personality is important, it is – in a training and development context –irrelevant. Personality factors 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.

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.

Being the highly experienced practitioner that he is, 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. "Your education," he told me, "will continue."

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.

Is charisma the inborn talent that makes the difference between a good manager and a great executive? 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?

Furthermore, is charisma a personality factor or a behavior factor? It is probably both. Our challenge became clear: 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.

Research Program: Measurement of Charisma

We surveyed 135 managers in the company’s high-potential program. They were selected through various means: Some were nominated by their immediate management, some were nominated by other management, and a handful were self-nominated (a temporary process whereby an individual has a chance to "prove her/himself" in spite of "management blockage"). 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.
Exhibit A

Demographics of Study Sample

Average Age: 41 (SD=5.8)

  Males Female
Caucasian: 101 20
Minority 12 2

Total Sample 135

It’s important to mention here that the sample exhibited a level of ambition higher than 85% of the general population of working adults, as measured by the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI). In other words, they came to the high potential program with an intrinsic desire to succeed. The purpose of our research was to provide them with tools that would give them a unique insight into how to enhance their success by emphasizing certain behaviors and skills.

Whatever measures we developed had to meet the three criteria of well designed developmental feedback. This means that every questionnaire item must do the following:

  1. It asks for data that is observable by others. This leads to rating consistency and reliability.
  2. It asks for observations that relate to the role of an executive. This is one aspect of assuring validity.
  3. It addresses a behavior that is under the control of an individual to change. In other words, it is a behavior that can respond to training if the individual is willing.

The third criterion is very important because behavioral feedback is most suitable for improving performance, not simply understanding performance.

From a developmental feedback perspective, charisma is a problem variable. It doesn't meet the third of the key criteria for good feedback items: Responsiveness to Training.

Looking at the history of research on charisma, however, we made an interesting discovery. The behavioral descriptions of the characteristic all center on enthusiasm, speed of motion, running, jumping, vocal projection, eye contact. In other words, the observable actions center on the individual’s apparent energy level.

Measuring Executive Energy

For years I have 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 this as the behavioral instrument for our study. The model incorporates the behavioral dimensions shown in the Task Cycle exhibit below.

We decided to add an Energy dimension to our behavior-focused Leadership survey. We incorporated it as a subscale under Drive. It contained seven items.

When we administered the survey to our sample of 135, I expected the Energy dimension to fail as an experiment. I believed it would not factor "cleanly." In other words, I thought that it would be too closely related to other dimensions, such as Vision. I thought it would provide no new, independent information.

I was wrong. Our seven items factored cleanly, more highly related to one another than to anything else in the survey. We had indeed 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.

Personality Measures

We wanted to see whether high Energy scores correlated with charisma-related scores on a personality instrument. We felt that if a person was already scoring high on the charisma scales, they would benefit from becoming conscious of how others perceive their energy. They could, for instance, learn to project more energy in key situations to improve their effectiveness.

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.

Our two selected instruments produced the following results on the three charisma-related items:

Exhibit B

Correlation between HPI Charisma Measures
and Leadership Survey Energy Measure

Hogan HPI Subscale Energy Scale
(Executive Leadership Survey)
No Social Anxiety (gregariousness) .32
Leadership (wanting to be in charge) .32
Self-confidence (having the wherewithal to move forward) .10

The moderate correlation between lack of social anxiety and the desire to be in charge showed that the energy-related behaviors can be related 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 is a portion of the phenomenon called charisma that can be quantified, studied, reported and, most importantly, developed.


Paul M. Connolly, Ph.D., is president and founder of Performance Programs, Inc., a company specializing in human capital measurement since 1987. He can be reached at 1-800-565-4223. View the Web site at http://www.performanceprograms.com/.

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