The latest on-air tirade of actor Charlie Sheen prompted me to begin thinking about how and why charismatic personalities win more often than average people. (Note: I do not suggest that Charlie Sheen is charismatic). One thing that Sheen did that is reminiscent of charismatic personalities is the ability to impact others through graphic and compelling imagery. Sheen’s use of terms like possessing “Tiger Blood,” or having “Adonis DNA” were exaggerated terms charismatics would have uttered, but couched within the context of a larger vision. In Sheen’s case, these powerful connotations were defensive shields used from a position of weakness. He was essentially fired and largely exposed as egotistical and lacking the proper comportment to inspire potential converts. That is not the mark of a winner! However, charismatic personalities differ in their degree of winning to achieve an objective, because they are relentless. Words are not defensive tools. Rather they are a means of expressing the manifestation of an idea. If the charismatic loses ground, he quickly assesses the situation and creates alternate routes to a destination. In Sheen’s case, he had no destination. His actions were a feeble attempt at bullying network executives into giving him his job back on the sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” It was tantamount to a fired worker picketing outside the company that terminated him. In this instance, Sheen was using competing networks that found his antics entertaining to further destroy the successful sitcom’s brand. Within this context, Sheen was essentially saying “If I can’t run it, I’ll wreck it.
Similar antics have been used by charismatic personalities. Adolph Hitler did it. Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi is doing it. The difference between the use of rhetoric between charismatic personalities and Charlie Sheen is the depth of the vision and the impact on supporting characters. For charismatic personalities, the power of their passion, perspective and personality are the driving forces that adherents support and get behind. On the contrary, Sheen was one piece of several parts of a puzzle. Successful projects that require an assembly of individuals to thrive are rendered ineffective when one of the pieces is missing. Charlie Sheen could not carry “Two and a Half Men,” by himself and the show’s formulaic success is not solely based on Sheen’s personal appeal. Rather, the success of the show hinges on the characters playing off each other. With charismatic personalities, their roles are seemingly indispensable. In short, they are the reason for the project’s existence.
It could be argued that the results of taking away the key component of a project is similar, whether the component is charismatic or merely the centerpiece. This may be correct. The loss of a key player is similar, but the impact is different in severity. The actors on “Two and a Half Men” are tied to a successful body of work and will be able to work on other projects. Conversely, the charismatic personality that goes down in ruins, not only destroys the project, he shakes the very foundation of the belief system of his followers. Sheen’s antics affects purse strings and pocketbooks, charismatic personalities affect hearts and minds. One can always regain money, but he loses everything when he loses his mind.