#29 — Character vs Charisma

What matters more: Character or charisma?

I stumbled onto this 1986 Washington Post article: Character Takes on Personality.

My grandma would have said that it’s more important to be a person of character than a charismatic personality.

But personality is getting more and more attention. We celebrate the charismatic CEOs who master the stage-craft, the salespeople with magnetic personalities, and the influencers in social media.

Warren Susman studied this change in our culture between the 19th and 20th centuries.

He found a clear shift:

“‘Personality,’ didn't even surface as a word in common usage until the end of the 19th century. Then, in the same sort of self-help manuals that once taught the building of character, the adjectives associated with personality were ‘fascinating, stunning, attractive, magnetic, glowing, masterful, creative, dominant, forceful.’”

“The change happened fast. In 1899, one Orison Swett Marden published his ‘Character: The Greatest Thing in the World. By 1921, Marden was publishing a book called ‘Masterful Personality,’ and advising his readers: ‘So much of our success in life depends upon what others think of us.’”

You can also see this focus on “charisma” starting in the mid-20th century (see google ngram viewer):

So what?

Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made were trusting people based on personality before I could assess their character.

All the attention to personality in our business world can be a distraction in how we assess people, how we invest in ourselves, and what we value.

Adam Grant had a great take that sums it up nicely:

[…] the gains that count the most are the hardest to count. Real growth is building character—striving to improve in generosity, integrity, humility, fairness, or courage.

Built in Seattle Podcast


Peter Hamilton (former CEO at TUNE) talks about profitable growth, team vs family, and his path from opera singer to CMO to CEO and $80M ARR.

On getting started:

“We like to look back and think, ‘we launched this thing, it was off to the races, and it just grew like a weed.’ And really the first year was kind of slow!”

On predicting the future:

“You certainly plan for every eventual outcome and you build relationships and all the different pathways that might be possible and think about how those pathways are going to progress over time. But even in 2017, I could not have told you that we were going to sell these two businesses separately in two different acquisitions.”