Character of a Leader

Working with leaders in different spheres, we see time and again that much of the popular thinking of leadership falls short.  While working a particular model or strategy for leadership, or being very knowledgeable in a particular area may go a long way to making a good company or a good executive, there is something more. There has also been a great deal of chat regarding emotional intelligence as made popular by the fascinating work of Daniel Goleman.  As ground breaking and often times healthy as this is, your foundational values, more specifically your character, has the most significant impact on the success of your career and your business.  Character or what the Greeks have referred to as virtue is literally the foundation upon which everything else rests upon.  Healthy character has been demonstrated to be the difference between good companies and great ones!

In many of our circles today success is the golden calf - getting the numbers at all costs and short term gain at the expense of long-term sustainability.   In fact, people can do a wide variety of harmful, hurtful and often illegal things to be successful and the unhealthy behavior is often over looked because they are successful.  For many, it may seem that success assuages guilt but great leaders realize this is not the reality.  These great leaders have a vision beyond the next quarter - a vision for something bigger than their personal numbers.   They have grasped this is being about and a part of something bigger than themselves that and are discovering significance in their success.  Virtue and healthy character will always yield success with significance.  Quick easy success will almost never produce healthy character or sense of significance.

In Jim Collins book, Good to Great, he asks " Can a good company  become a great company and if so how?"  In the study of 1435 companies, Collins and his team, through rigorous analysis, were able distill this list of companies down to 11 they believed to be truly great companies and a list of 11 companies who were really good companies but not great, and began to examine the traits within them.  Collins was adamant that they were not looking for a leadership model but the research was clear.  The was a distinct difference in the leadership between the good and great companies, and this was summed up in two words: Humility and Will.  These are aspects of healthy character.

Mark Strom, suggests if you are looking for the flash in the pan success, a looters - grab it and run kind of success, humility won't be your choice, but if you are looking to build something that will last, that which is sustainable and profitable in long run, humility is worth careful consideration because:

"Arrogance, bravado and certain callousness in the use of people will get results - for as long as they last.  By comparison, building what lasts requires faith, persistence, resolve and grace.  Humility opens us to a world big enough to warrant perseverance and big enough to learn from.  Humility is only for those who wish to build something great, something that lasts, something that is noble."

Of course humility is but one component of healthy, well-formed character.  Others include integrity, wisdom, courage, humor and compassion.  These virtues are not something that are in a model to be worked but characteristics we acquire through the deliberate decision to practice them.  This involves getting some honest feedback from friends and enemies and having the courage to look very closely at our life - not just a part of it but all of it  and resolve to do the good thing because it is the good thing even when it may not immediately pay us to do so.  Healthy character has been defined as to doing the noble thing even when no one else is watching and is just as important in the small things as it is in the large - in the way we treat the clerk at 7-11, our children and spouse, or our best prospects.

"Many people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character." -- Albert Einstein

Our character  is the context which the leadership models and strategies operate.   The best models, best market conditions and expertise will only perform to the degree of the first limiting factor and often times this is issues of character.  Why? because character is often over looked, under valued and few want to pay the price to develop it.  Many long for greatness but few are prepared to pay the price.

Watch for others in this series where we will examine a number of healthy character traits and how they work their way into your real life: your career, marriage- all of life.


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