In Praise of Congeniality

The following text appears in A World Book of Values,  featuring descriptions of 365 values  edited by Patrick Somers and Kate Stephenson.  It was  published in 2015 and contains a foreward by  Richard Barrett, whose  values methodology it explores. The  descriptions of  “Life Skills” and “Congeniality” were  penned by Richard House,  architect  and founder of  Communicate Charisma.

A World Book of Values

This book contains the text below.


“Many cultures hold that to make a difference, extraordinary individuals must break rules or challenge the status quo. Taking a stand on principles can be an abrasive and lonely affair — and is often the reverse of the social or cooperative mind-set we associate with congeniality or ‘being congenial’.

To find someone congenial means to that we experience them as pleasant to be with because their personality, qualities, or interests are similar to our own. We can easily imagine that congenial people can be ‘movers and smoothers’ – but seldom the ‘shakers’ – those tough leaders who challenge.

So congenial might sound like a trivial social attribute, rather than a serious, world-transforming value. Congenial sounds soft and feminine, a facilitator skill. We may ask if those who rely on social cohesion, could ever make a meaningful contribution to societies where we prize more dominant leaders?

Yet viewed from another perspective, a different model of leadership sets a high value on cooperative behaviour, on consensus forming, and upon sensitivity to the needs of others. In fact the range of effective leadership is commonly measured by emotional intelligence and empathy, just as much as it is by assertiveness and drive.

The art of charismatic leadership is not simply to present a valid proposition – but to have an ‘infectious personality’ or compelling attractiveness and charm, that can inspire devotion in others. That means presenting new ideas in ways that people can engage with.  More followers will accept the leader’s opinions, ideas, and be willing to act in the way he or she wishes, if they recognize shared personality traits, qualities or interest.

In other words, although ‘congeniality’ may occupy the opposite end of the leadership spectrum from assertiveness or extravert behaviour, it is every bit as vital for the fully-rounded personality with a narrative to present. Not just on the big stage, but in a small room or on the small screen too. Whenever members of a big audience think that a speaker is addressing them personally, the power of congeniality is confirmed.

If we see leadership as a range or spectrum of attributes that are applied to meeting the varying needs of the group, then both “hard” and “soft” values must have their place. Congeniality is a value that needs to be in the mix.

History shows that it’s possible to start a revolution as a prickly “lone nut” – but it tends to be easier for those with the social skill of engaging followers who believe that the champion or figurehead is speaking on their behalf, and reflects their own values and beliefs.

Finally, of course, congenial people are simply more fun to be around!”

To learn more about Empathy and its importance in  Communicate Charisma’s methodology,  follow this link.

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