Character the Foundation for Leadership
I love studying leadership and management. I devour books, scholarly articles, and business articles to soak up information on good leadership and management. I’m not sure why it fascinates me, but it does.
Originally, this passion set me on a search to find the perfect manager and the perfect leader. In fact, I went on to get my master’s degree because of that search and passion. I used to equate leadership with management, but they are not the same. You can be a leader without being a manager and a manager without being a leader.
I can honestly say that good leaders and good managers are hard to find. For the longest time I didn’t think they could co – exist. Now I do. I found that the qualities that make for a good manager are embodied in good character.
I also used to think that leadership only happened in a work environment, but I know better now. You can be a leader at work or outside of a work environment.
Character sets the foundation for leadership and is key to personal and professional success. Your character says everything about who you are as a a person and a leader – because we function from the inside out.
Your character has been developing since you were born. Your parents, family, teachers, friends, life decisions and media have helped to shape your character.
A person with good character is described as someone who has integrity, honesty, courage, loyalty, dependability, responsibility, truthfulness, conscientiousness and more. Someone described as having a bad character has the exact opposite traits.
The traits that make up the core of your personality are your personal value and belief systems – they are your character. So, whatever is inside of you, will eventually come out. It is who you are when you are alone and no one else can see your actions. It is simple acts and decisions repeated over time that build and define your character. A person acts according to their values. Here’s something to think about: what do you do with garbage when you are walking down a street? Do you throw garbage on the ground and keep walking, or do you throw it in a trash can? Or what about a grocery cart? Do you take it back to where the other carts are stored, or do you leave it where it is and it becomes someone else’s problem?
Character is so important in life, that many professions and trades will check out a person’s character before allowing them into their chosen field. Regulatory bodies will allow someone into a profession or trade if they are satisfied that the person will practice with decency, honesty, integrity, and in accordance with the law. If the person doesn’t have those qualities, they may never get into to their chosen field or they may lose their right to practice in that field. That is how important character is.
There are many examples where poor character has been found out and the consequences of that can be quite severe, for example, people may lose their job, their credibility and be publicly humiliated as a result. Universities have software to check on plagiarism. If you are caught plagiarizing, you can be expelled from university. I know of people who have lost a job because they lied on their resume. Some people call this karma, I call it the principle of sowing and reaping; if you sow dishonesty, be prepared to face the consequences of your actions.
Lack of good character is the biggest reason for leadership failure. Why?
Without integrity, it is hard to gain trust and be a leader
Without courage, it is hard to achieve your vision
Without emotional control, you lose credibility
Strong Leaders with Good Character
The world is crying out for strong leaders with good character. When I think of strong leaders, I think of someone who is calm and steady, who has integrity, empathy, and whom people want to follow. They don’t always have the loudest voice. They listen and ask questions. Even when those around them may be emotional, they remain calm. They know who they are. Their character is the foundation for their leadership, and it serves as the moral compass for how they lead and live life. They are the ones that inspire me to become better; they raise the bar on behaviour and performance.
I read an article that talked about Ben Franklin (yes, the same one who invented the lightning rod and electricity). This article talked about how Ben Franklin focused on one of 13 qualities he associated with character. Each week he would pick one and focus on it for that week to strengthen it. They were things like: humility, calm (serenity), honesty (sincerity), listening (silence). Although he didn’t always live completely by his values, he tried, and in the trying, he felt that it made him a better person, more successful and happier in life.
A while back, I was feeling out of sorts. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just didn’t feel right. I realized I was feeling the effects of cumulative bad behavior. I’d been through one rough patch after another, and I had started to take on some behaviours that I wasn’t proud of. Being around some really terrible managers exposed me to some nasty behaviours that I found myself imitating. Experts say that hurting people hurt others. It’s true. I was hurting and lashing out, I’d justify my behaviour by saying, “well they deserved it, or I don’t care what they think, etc., etc.”
The truth was that I cared. At the very core of my soul I wasn’t that person, and I was tired of myself.
So, like Ben Franklin, I decided to work on one character trait at a time. But, I did it differently from Ben, I did it for much longer than a week. I have been doing it for more than a year. My project was being kind. I am still working on it, and it is becoming more of a habit now. Like Ben, I’m not perfect and have to work at it because it takes time and patience. For me, kindness is the single most important character trait. It is a simple gift you can give yourself and others. A simple act of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s day.
I heard a speaker talk about homeless people. The speaker had many interactions with the homeless and said that the one thing that struck her, was that they felt invisible. No one wanted to acknowledge their presence. People would walk by and not make eye contact, they wouldn’t say hello, or smile. They told her that they just want to be acknowledged.
Kindness is a way of life. It lifts others up and it lifts you up. You may never know the difference an act of kindness will make, it can change a day, a week, or a life.
I resolved to do an act of kindness weekly, then twice a week. Now I try to do something kind every day. Yes, it takes time, effort and patience, but I remind myself, I can change my own little world one act at a time, and maybe make someone else’s day better.
Did it change me? Yes!
Do I like myself more? Yes!
Is the quality of my life better? Yes!
Are my relationships with people better? Yes!
What happened? I changed my inside thinking and my actions followed.
I have now moved on to my new character – building exercise – listening more actively.
Do you like who you are?
Are you feeling out of sorts?
Is your outer person aligned with your inner person?
Take a page out of history and try what Ben Franklin did, train yourself to be a better person – the person you will be happy with.
The small actions you take, and the motivations behind them, will define what kind of a person and leader you are.