The last two blog posts generated quite a few comments. Leadership characteristics and how leaders can help others find success struck a chord with many readers. So let’s continue down this leadership path by digging deeper into character.
As a reminder, character along with vulnerability are the two most important attributes needed for effective leadership. Since no one is perfect, effective leaders must be able to admit when they are wrong or when they accidentally hurt or offend someone. Character is important because all other leadership characteristics flow from this above-all-else trait.
But what is character? Most quotes – and there are many great ones – simply use the word ‘character’ with the understanding that we know it when we see it.
Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.
~ John Wooden
Character is much easier kept than recovered.
~ Thomas Paine
I look to a day when people will not be judged
by the color of their skin, but by the content of
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
While these quotes are right on target, they do little to tell us what character is, much less how to build it (we’ll tackle the building part in our next post).
What Is Character?
I started this post thinking it would be fairly easy to write even given the weightiness of the subject. That is proving to be a false thought. That’s because character is hard to pin down. We know it when we see it. And after being with some people, we feel the presence of character.
Numerous words are associated with character: integrity, ethics, honesty, principles, accountability, fairness, honor, trustworthiness, sincerity, responsible, virtue, thoughtful, love, caring, reliable, and core values. All great words and when someone exemplifies at least several of these traits, we say they have good character. But is that all there is to character, just a collection of words?
I think the Greeks can help us here. Passing back in time, through Middle English (character) and then Old French (caractere), we ultimately find our origins in the Greek word kharaktēr, which is “engraved mark” or “scratch” and later was used to distinguish one thing from something else.
So character is something that is scratched in us. Something that is engraved in us, marking us and distinguishing us. It’s who we are. It’s our “true north” that drives all of our behavior all of the time.
Effective leaders must be more than a few words or behaviors such as caring and sincere. Some leaders can care for a while or show fairness most of the time and even be reliable on most occasions. But if these traits are not their “true north,” their effectiveness will most likely be short-lived and the legacy they leave behind will be tarnished at best.
Exceptional leaders must have high standards “engraved” in their core being. These standards guide their decisions, helping them choose right over wrong and directing them to care for each individual in their leadership world which brings us back to the point of our previous blog. An effective leader’s two primary objectives are to help his or her supervisor and team achieve greatness.
That’s it. A leader’s job is that “simple.” A leader with character will obsessively and exhaustively strive to help his/her team find success. The leader will care, be fair, be truthful, and be passionate. This leader will do all of these things both in public for everyone to view and in private when no one is looking. A leader with character will not compromise the team in order to gain success for himself/herself. Again, it’s about the team, not the leader.
“Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness,
generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything
else, it is about how we treat other people.”
Is it just me or is it becoming more difficult to find exceptional leaders?
Has our selfie-obsessed world relegated character to an
old-fashioned thought of years gone by?
Can a leader be effective without character?
Join the conversation!
In my previous post, we explored the two most important leadership qualities. Number one is character, which is essential for effective leadership. All other leadership traits such as working hard, treating people fairly, caring for others, and being honest and truthful flow from being a person of high character.
The second characteristic effective leaders employ is vulnerability. Being able to admit you are wrong – and there will be a time when that happens – or asking for forgiveness when apologizing for a mindless blunder shows followers that you are human. This vulnerability results in building trust with people around you.
So how does a leader display these two qualities on an everyday basis? What is the practical working out of these two characteristics? While there are dozens or even hundreds of small instances where character and vulnerability are shown throughout a day, the overall mindset of effective leaders should simply be to help those people around them be better.
That business philosophy has allowed me to enjoy a fantastic career across different industries, different job functions, and even different countries. As a leader or supervisor, I’ve always had two goals:
1. Make the people reporting to me successful.
2. Make my boss look good.
If I do those two things well, what happens to me? I’ll be successful as well! In fact, it would be almost impossible for me not to be successful if I was surrounded by success.
For those people I’m leading, my objective is to constantly set them up for success. Get them the tools or training they need that allows them to do their job. Remove some obstacle standing in their way of completing a project. Give career advice or make personal and professional connections that might advance their career. Always be available to help in any way I can.
For my boss, I’m always thinking, “How can I make her look good to her supervisor and peers?” What can I do to advance my supervisor’s career? Supporting my supervisor’s business goals and objectives should propel him to higher levels of responsibility. What happens to me if my boss moves up? I will hopefully draft right along in the wake of his success.
Have there been times when I’ve fallen short of this philosophy? Yes, and the results have been less than desirable for me. For those few times, I have apologized to the appropriate people (vulnerability) and taken a step forward in my character development by vowing not to repeat that particular mistake and striving to do better next time.
Radio host and author Denis Prager said it well one day as he was talking about husbands and wives (I believe it was during his fantastic weekly Male/Female Hour). He asked if you (the radio listener) make your spouse a better person. He then expanded that thought to a much wider circle by asking if you make your friends better.
Fabulous questions! So let me ask you:
Do you make your teams better?
Do you make your boss better?
Do you make your company better?
So how do you show your leadership skills on an everyday basis?
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.