Character and Leadership: Does it Really Matter Anymore?

By March 3, 2016Uncategorized

Many of us will have an opportunity to vote for our next president on November 2016.  As a student and practitioner of leadership, one could not ignore our current dilemma. For some people, the decision has been made. For others, we are still trying to make sense of it all. Many things are bound to change between now and November, but “expect the unexpected” has taken a new twist in front our own eyes.  

I am not here to entertain any political views. My life’s purpose and vision is to explore the goodness in our society by adding value to leaders through leadership development. I wanted us to look at character and leadership-whether it matters anymore?

I have come to a personal belief that the key ingredient of all successful leaders is the idea that leadership begins with the virtues of our character. Leadership is mainly a function of who you are. How does one build more leaders? First by building their character. Why do people want to follow a leader? You guessed it again-character!

If you visited any recent bookstores lately, you will find dozens of books if not hundreds on the topic of leadership. I am a regular book reader and I discovered that fewer books address leadership character. For some reason we have lost sight of character.  Could it be because our educational system and organizations are so task focused; maybe because we just don’t know how to think about character; maybe because character sounds like “old school”? Maybe we cannot assess character objectively?

Yet, I feel that character is such an important element of leadership — particularly for the leaders of the free world— which it should not and cannot be ignored.  After all, they will have the power to influence many things to come. Think of the best leader you know or have known. Would their character be part of that conversation?

Character provides the foundation of strong leadership. Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute for Advancement of Ethics states:

What we will achieve as executives and leaders will be shaped far more by the collection of dispositions, habits and attitudes that make up our character than by our education or skills . . . the destiny of individuals is determined by personal character, the destiny of an organization is determined by the character of its leadership.” (Building character: A leadership essential)

In Return on Character Book, Fred Kiel conducted a-seven-year study of 121 CEOs. He found that highly principled CEOs—Virtuoso CEOs—achieved nearly five times the return on assets that leaders whose character scores were the lowest—Self-Focused CEOs. These successful CEOs believed that people like to be challenged, treated with respect, appreciated honest and receive clear feedback. Engagement was sought out to seek the best in people.

Character can’t be bought either. Even if you are a rich candidate. Peggy Noonan shares the following perspective,

“In a president as ultimately in anyone else, character matters.  You can’t buy courage and decency; you can’t rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him. He needs to have… a vision of the future he wishes to create. This is a function of thinking, of the mind, the brain. But a vision is worth little if a president doesn’t have the character–the courage and heart–to see it through….” Peggy Noonan, Character Above All

So, why does character matter when it comes to leadership? A leader must be trustworthy of following. Otherwise they have lost their credibility to lead. Leaders with a good character are leaders who lead for the right reasons. They are people who place the highest value on the common good, strong, positive character of every individual. They know that their impact of their actions will make or break their leadership.

One of the key goals of effective leadership is to enable others to act independently once they understand the vision and goals the leader articulated for their organization. Leadership with trust is about enabling others to move from telling them what to do, to empowering them and helping them to achieve the vision and goal that the leader has articulated.

This is why character makes such a big difference today. A leader whose actions exemplify positive character traits such as integrity, honesty and trust will act in the best interests of his or her team. In any organization today, people want to believe in their leaders. If you give them reasons to trust you and follow your lead, they’re not going to go looking for reasons to think otherwise.

Let me leave you with a final thought that Jim Rohn, the pioneer of personal development captures perfectly about character, “Character sustains itself and nurtures itself even as it is being put to work, tested, and challenged. And once character is formed, it will serve as a solid, lasting foundation upon which to build the life you desire.”

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