1. Leadership and Character

character-depression-lange-womanStrength of character, as the blog title implies, is one of the most important attributes of a leader.  As I stated earlier, effective leaders must have credibility, the trust and confidence of others.  Key to this is a strong sense of integrity.  Integrity is built on honesty and the consistent, steadfast adherence to established principles and standards.  Strong leadership is dependent upon character, and character is certainly measured, if not defined, by integrity.

Perhaps the greatest risk to the integrity of a leader is temptation.  In the eyes of employees, team members, students, constituents, and even family members, leaders are held to a higher ethical standard.  Leaders are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is measured and fair and beyond reproach.  Of course, the reality is that leaders are fallible humans, subject to the same temptations, distractions, and vices as everyone else.  But the perception and expectation that leaders will act in the best interest of others persists nonetheless.  For this reason, a strong sense of personal self discipline is critical.  Self discipline ensures we act and make decisions based on principle rather than emotion or personal desire.  This is one area where our political leaders and our political system tend to fail us.

Isn’t it ironic that the entire political establishment of our country spends so much time and effort working to sustain its competition for power?  If democrats and republicans spent as much time working together for the good of the country as they do working to keep their respective parties in power, imagine what could be accomplished.  And this holds true not only at the party level, but even more egregiously at the individual level.  We are bombarded on virtually a daily basis with headlines that expose fraud, corruption, and abuse of power on some level.  It would be bad enough if these transgressions were conducted for the benefit of a given state or locale, but they invariably serve the interests of the indicted individual and his or her cronies.  Political posturing at the party level is no better.  Legislative actions are routinely road blocked for no other reason than they’re being championed by someone on the other side of the isle.  Worse, many bills are bought and paid for by private interest groups.  You can call me naive all you want.  It’s all about one hand greasing the other.  It’s all about maintaining power, maintaining control.  Serving the country is not always first on the agenda.

Unfortunately, although manifested differently, these same character flaws are often revealed in business as well, where organizational integrity takes a back seat to revenue and profits.  Company executives line their pockets at the expense of investors and employees, executive pay is outrageously out of scale with performance, perks extravagant and fiscally irresponsible.  Accounting fraud, consumer deception, defective and dangerous products – all commonplace and all profitable.  Even within the day to day operation of the business, the politics of power and influence drive many of the decisions that are made, policies that are introduced, even promotions that take place.  It’s quite a chess game, the posturing and positioning, and always with the underlying design to sustain or grow someone’s position of power and influence.

Now, I admit that I’m painting a dire and pessimistic picture.  Certainly not all leaders are like this, in politics or business.  But the fact is that what I’ve described takes place every day in our world – not just in “the” world, but in “our” world.  The lack of integrity we experience in our leaders is extremely destructive to our faith in their ability to effectively lead.  Whether a boss, an elected official, or an entire company or industry, their character is called into question every day, either headlined on the nightly news for all the world to see, or quietly whispered between co-workers around the water fountain.  Unfortunately, the effect of it all is a greatly diminished sense of trust in our leaders at every level of society.  And without our trust, how long will we continue to follow their lead?  After all, trust is a product of character and integrity, and part of the foundation on which effective leadership is built.

If character is built upon a foundation of integrity, discipline, and trust, it’s then framed with resilience and covered in unwavering conviction and confidence.  While having many weaknesses and limitations, leaders must be strong and undaunted.  However, do not confuse voice of confidence with voice of arrogance.  Ego, pride, and an inflated sense of self-importance all breed arrogance.  How many times have we answered a daughter or son’s “Why?” with, “Because I said so!”  As a parent I can personally relate to that, but it is a great example of a response based on title/position instead of conviction.  If a decision is based on objective criteria, would not a better response be a confident explanation designed to educate and foster trust?  Strong leaders do not communicate from a perspective of position or title.  They don’t have to.  Quite the contrary, their voice of authority comes from the strength of conviction of right and wrong, not strength of ego.  It’s a subtle distinction, but one that is extraordinarily important.

Finally, strength of character cannot be complete without sensitivity to the needs of others.  Empathy is essential to compassion, sensitivity, and understanding.  Leaders must be willing to give people room to fail as well as succeed. Everyone needs encouragement and reinforcement when they struggle.  That’s why we coach.  Those strong of character do not delight in the failure of others, they are burdened by it.  However, the real distinction is that they feel compelled to help.

Next Post:  Leadership and Discipline

About Bryant
Bryant is a business management and organizational development executive with over 20 years’ experience focused on financial and operational efficiencies, talent development and optimization, improved employee engagement, and cultural alignment of teams within the organization. He has diverse experience in successful financial and strategic planning, brand management, leadership analysis and talent development, as well as designing and executing improvements to teams’ cultural efficacy and organizational alignment. Bryant has experience in both International Public S&P 500 Corporate and Non-Profit Sectors, and also runs his own entrepreneurial business venture, a consulting company specializing in helping small businesses and organizations improve operational efficiency, leadership development, and employee engagement . Bryant holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelors in Fine Arts (BFA).

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