Sunday, March 27, 2005

Arrogance or Charisma ?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine over coffee this week about the outward persona of some Hollywood celebrities. I mentioned that I wasn't too fond of Brad Pitt, and I thought him arrogant. My friend disagreed; he said he had charisma.

That made me think. What is the difference between arrogance and charisma ?

Arrogance is most certainly the more ubiquitous of the two qualitites. I have seen this in many people throughout my life. Their outward demeanor is ruled by an overbearing sense of self-importance. They think that everyone should like them, respect them, submit to them. They brag shamelessly about past conquests, whether real or embellished, and expect that this will garner respect and admiration. Perhaps it does in the short term, but over time, more intelligent members of the audience catch onto the tall tales and persistent air of unfounded superiority, and adjust their perception of the braggart accordingly.

Charisma is an entirely different quality, and is much more rare. A person with this gift is one that can inspire others, motivate them, guide them to follow. This person can elicit devotion from those they touch with any combination of charm, wit, enthusiasm and intelligence.

Of course, the arrogant person can also have all these positive qualities as well. But alongside these qualities, they have a hidden agenda of self-aggrandizement, control and haughty superiority, concerned only with the cultivation of their own narcissism. In contrast, the charismatic person influences others through their own inner strength and passion, with only the honest desire to deliver their message as motivation.

Perhaps, as my fellow coffee drinker pointed out, the interpretation of some people's outward facade is in the eye of the beholder. This can very well be true. Those that are insecure in themselves, or jealous of the success of others, can use negative words to attempt to bring the person in question down, or to exalt themselves in the eyes of others. Perhaps, the person in question's inner motivations are not readily apparent, and interpretation is left to the imagination of the audience - leaving the observers to apply their own opinions, experiences and internal biases to the speaker.

In my everyday life, I witness arrogance in almost every setting - from the latte sipping, cell-phone yapping SUV driver swerving through lanes and cutting off other drivers, to the Nextel chatters sharing both sides of their conversations with an unwitting train car full of riders, to the workplace braggarts who dominate every meeting and conference call, and have nothing positive to say about anyone but themselves. Just about anyone can be arrogant, but it takes a special person to be charismatic.

How to discern between the two ? One of my favorite tools is the old saying "Actions speak louder than words." I can listen to a person brag about their past accomplishments and conquests with interest and with approval. But that alone doesn't impress me much. What truly impresses me is how that person utilizes their skills, personality and abilities to address the task at hand. What impresses me is someone who not only says they are going to do something, they follow through with it - while treating others with respect and consideration, and while using negotiation and compromise (instead of intimidation and force) to achieve a mutually satisfactory solution. What matters most to me is not what that person says, but what that person does, and who that person truly is.

One can tell quite a bit about someone by how they treat the restaurant server, the cleaning lady/man, the checker at the grocery store, and someone else's pet. Do they treat all human beings (and their beloved furry companions) with the utmost of respect, gentleness and kindness ? Or do they treat those considered 'lesser' than them with contempt and scornful disdain ?

A fine example of true, unpretentious charisma is the CEO of my company. He goes to great lengths to let all of us, a company of over 40,000 employees worldwide, come to know him as a human being. Every month, he invites all employees with their birthdays in that month, to attend live question-and-answer sessions with him in person (or via videoconference to remote locations). He speaks openly and candidly of his priorities, his game plans and his visions, as well as the more personal side of his life. He refuses to be 'Mr. CEO', and instead, insists on being called by his first name by all his employees. A truly remarkable individual.

It's no wonder our company is one of the most successful high-tech enterprises in the world. His candid honesty, insistence on open communication, and development of an open culture has infiltrated all levels of the organization, so that each individual, at any level, feels that they can have a voice if they so choose. This type of empowerment has inspired greatness in many who work for him.

That is true charisma.

Of course, it seems ridiculous - almost blasphemous - to compare this great CEO with a Hollywood actor, but now I must ask - which category does Brad Pitt fall under ? I haven't decided that yet. I think I will need to watch him again, now that I have written all this out, before I make a diagnosis either way. What do you all think ? Is he arrogant or charismatic - or just a high-rolling pretty boy that doesn't need to open his mouth to be successful ? Weigh in at the "Comments" link directly below. :)


Blogger Kris said...

I can not say whether or not Brad Pitt has confidence or charisma, but I do think you seem to have the difference between the two figured out just nicely. Let me ask you a related question. What's the difference between confidence and arrogance?

March 27, 2005 at 5:45:00 PM PST  

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