Character: Why it’s Imperative for Leadership

Posted on 26. Feb, 2014 by in Blog

Read most leadership literature these days and you’ll find a host of characteristics defining a leader including influence, authenticity, vision, results, innovation, communication, results execution, and strategic thinking. Likewise, you’ll see many of these same topics being taught in leadership development curriculum.

It seems that in the midst of these important leadership competencies and behaviors, we have forgotten the one that probably matters most. We have taken a leader’s character for granted, perhaps as an underlying expectation, rather than an imperative that should be developed, nurtured, and emphasized.

Here is why that needs to change.

The character of a leader is found when you scratch beneath the surface of their reputation. It is found in what happens behind the closed doors of their corner office – what a leader does and says when no one is looking.

Character is found in the how leaders treat, communicate with, and speak about their employees, former employees, customers, and community. It is found in their sensitivity and care for others’ feelings, emotions, values, and well-being.

How a leader wields power reflects their character. Whether they use that power to influence people for their betterment or not, and how their power affects their ego, molds their character.

Character is also shown in consistency between word and action, and it is evident in how a leader’s values and ethics resonate with their words and actions, their decision-making, and how they influence people.

In the absence of good leadership character is where problems emerge. For example, morals and ethics break down. Fairness and integrity are compromised. Poor business decisions are made. Fear and manipulation are tactics of influence, rather than positive motivation. Power, control, greed, and ego become the goal.

Character is the backbone of a leader, and leaders are the backbones of organizations.

In the words of Dale Carnegie, character is who a leader truly is. It is not the reputation, outward appearance, image, or personal brand they’ve created and protected. As a result, it affects nearly every aspect of what they do in their leadership role. The inner life of the leader affects their outer behavior. This truth carries three (3) important implications in the workplace…

  1. We must select leaders, not purely based on results, but also on their character.
  2. We must help leaders grow in self-awareness, character, and values.
  3. We must evaluate leaders based on how they are leading with character.

We can no longer deny the importance of character in the leadership of our workplaces. We can no longer overlook or discount significant character flaws in our leaders. We can no longer assume that leaders have the tools, knowledge, self-awareness, and motivation necessary to grow their character.

Moreover, we can no longer deny the inner work lives of our leaders, because the ultimate consequences of failed leadership character are failures in our organizations. Human potential and organizational potential are inexplicably linked.

We must start selecting, developing, and evaluating leaders differently.

Our organizations’ success both now and in the future depends on people who are of strong character who can courageously lead from their heart, integrity, and values and who are developing their inner work life.

That’s the kind of leadership that our workplaces and community really need.

written by Katie Talarico

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