Over the last several blog entries, we’ve established two elements of effective leadership:
So the next question is how does someone develop character? For our purposes here, we won’t get into questions such as genetics – are you born with good or bad character? And there’s character development during early years at home. Were you raised in a high-character environment which helped build character without even thinking about it? School also plays a part in character development as we grow. If someone is blessed to be in a good school or have high-character teachers, they can develop high character without even trying.
While these points are certainly valid and critically important for character development, this discussion will focus on our adult years. How can we develop our character, either repairing our damaged reputation from past behavior or working to improve and protect the character we’ve developed over the years?
Stephen Covey says we build character by overcoming challenges and adversity. Helen Keller had a similar thought, saying character is developed through experience, trial, and suffering. Author Grenville Kleiser said character is developed through self-discipline and self-control.
While all of the above thoughts are certainly true, waiting for those stressful life challenges to develop our character is a risky proposition. Preparing for those character-defining moments is a much better option! Expending time and energy on the following eight “Be’s” will not only develop your character but also develop your leadership abilities.
Be authentic: People want to follow leaders who are “real.” Strong character requires genuineness or authenticity in all aspects of your life. In groups large and small, in public and in private, leaders must show the same “face” and be consistent in both words and behaviors.
Be humble: Sadly, in today’s “Look at me!” culture perpetuated by constant Facebook and YouTube posts, modesty is seen as a weakness by some people. This is not the case for leaders. Let’s be clear – humbleness is not thinking little of yourself. It is, though, being self-aware or having an accurate assessment of your abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Being humble also means being mindful of others, typically putting their needs ahead of yours.
Be reassuring: There are many related words here such as be comforting, be calm, be uplifting, and be positive, encouraging, and supportive. Leaders with strong character have a “presence” about them that helps others be confident and poised in any situation, particularly in times of stress and ambiguity.
Be a truth seeker: Leaders with strong character don’t allow their biases, prejudices, and emotions guide their words and actions. Strong character demands truth and facts and when those truths are uncomfortable or even hurtful, leaders with character handle the situation with a sense of caring and compassion.
Be courteous: The world is getting more and more harsh. It’s getting more difficult to have a meaningful conversation with people who might disagree with your particular thought. Accept differences in people, be polite to everyone, and always offer a kind word or helpful deed.
Be selective: Surround yourself with people of character. Let their character rub off on you. Challenge you. Choose your friends and your business associates wisely. We are often known by the company we keep so be sure the people surrounding you add to your character rather than subtract from it.
Be last: Seek the background rather than the limelight. By default, most leaders get the attention. Leaders with strong character realize their success is often the result of hard work by many others. So shine the spotlight on others and offer generous amounts of praise and thanks.
Be protective: No one can take your character but you can certainly give it way. Be wise in your decisions and guard your character as the treasure it is.
Can leaders be effective without practicing the above “Be’s”? Absolutely! History is full of less-than-honorable leaders who have made huge impacts on the world, usually with dire consequences on people and society. A lasting, positive impact, though, requires a leader to have a strong character that guides their thoughts and actions. This type of leader most certainly makes the world a better place.
Our world is in desperate need of leaders with strong character. Will you be one of them?
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.