Effective leadership is not an accident; rather it is the result of carefully culturing the qualities of leadership into your own personality and ethos. Character is one such quality, and it’s a biggie. I don’t have to remind you of the Enron scandal and the mortgage and banking debacles. Character is the guts to go with your convictions. Character is the true heart of authenticity and being real. Because character is all about whom you are, and what you stand for.
In The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John C. Maxwell explains that character is at the heart of our development as human beings, not just as leaders. Each day we make hundreds of choices, and some are at the crossroads of character and compromise. And each time we choose character, regardless of the consequence or reward, we grow deeper and stronger as people and leaders.
Maxwell suggests that there are four things everyone should bear in mind about character:
– Character is More than Talk – Character runs at the core of our personality. He suggests that it determines who we are, which dictates what we see, which results in what we do. So character is at the heart of intention and action. It just doesn’t go deeper than that.
– Talent Is a Gift, but Character Is a Choice – Maxwell tells us that character is not something we are born with; rather it is created through the choices we make. And I would add that the choices we make are created through the character we have chosen. The fact that we can chose to have sterling character is great. In fact, if you think about it, it’s downright empowering if you want to provide effective leadership.
– Character Brings Lasting Success with People – Nobody wants to follow a leader who is flawed. Think of Bill Clinton and the Intern Scandal. It’s not like he killed someone, or necessarily ruined anyone’s life. But he lied to the public. And that was a choice he made at the crossroads of character and compromise. That compromise cost him a lot of leadership effectiveness.
– Leaders Cannot Rise Above the Limitations of Their Character. Maxwell also tells us that weak character carries a high price. He cites The Success Syndrome by Steven Berglas, a Harvard Medical School psychologist whose work suggests that character is a foundational trait. The stronger the foundation, the higher a person can rise.
But when the person reaches the limits of that foundation they will suffer from one of 4 “A’s”: Arrogance, feelings of aloneness, unhealthy adventure-seeking, and adultery. These are the signs that a person has pushed beyond the ability of their character. I can think of a few governors and a senator who have had one of those problems in the past few years. What a cost!
Effective leadership requires a strong foundation of character, so how is your character? Maxwell suggests four things to do to improve it. First, look for the cracks. Write down the recent choices you’ve made and whether or not you’ve compromised on what you know is right, or what you said you’d do. Second, identify any patterns in those compromises. Look for clues about your weaknesses by identifying patterns.
Third, own the fault. You made the choices, so now you can follow through by apologizing, to yourself if nobody else was involved, or to others who were affected. This is a soul cleansing action. Now that you have a clean slate, the fourth action is to start rebuilding. Maxwell recommends creating a plan that will prevent any further compromises in your convictions.
And just so you know, I’ll be making my own plan too. Making compromises is human. We all do it. Owning up to them and doing something to prevent them in the future is a sign of true character! Keep building your character and providing effective leadership.
By Aaron Cook