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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

A Leader of Character

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

A well-known quote about organizations from Peter Drucker is "Culture trumps strategy. Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Of course, Drucker is referring to the power of culture over just about every aspect of an organization including commitment, performance and ability to adapt.

Could the same apply to leadership? Could it be that Character trumps Efficacy? Could it be that Character eats leadership efficacy for breakfast?

Time after time, studies has shown that employees respect leaders who demonstrate strong character. Employees are likelier to commit, to support and to admire leaders who reflect attributes of character. What are the components of character?

  1. Integrity This entails speaking and acting in concert with strong ethical and moral principles. It means the leader holding him or herself to high standards and expecting the same of others. There is no more powerful shaper of the principles within a team or an organization than those that the leader or leaders model. Employees take their cue about these standards by what they see the leaders doing. Leadership is no place for short-cuts, fuzzy math, or prevarication.

2. Internal Guidance System Leaders with character have a strong sense of ethics in

the workplace and rely on their own sense of right and wrong. In both guiding their

actions and decisions and in guiding the actions and decisions of others, especially in

times of turmoil, they use their internal guidance system to navigate. Interestingly, they

often share their rationale for difficult decisions and actions, citing their reliance on

deeply held principles.

3. Candor and Honesty Leaders who avoid controversy by ignoring, prevaricating,

sugar-coating and outright lying undermine their own credibility and authority. An

integral aspect of leadership character is being truthful, sharing important information,

giving difficult feedback and being forthright about circumstances. It may be tempting to

take the easy path and share half-truths or (worse yet), share nothing at all. But we

know that leaders who are honest and forthcoming (even brutal), with the best interests

of people, the team and the organization at heart, are those that are most respected.

4. Fairness This is difficult to define, harder to demonstrate, and even harder to

justify. At its heart, fairness means the absence of favoritism, a fairly applied set of

rules, and equal opportunities for people to contribute, to learn, and to advance. It does

now, however, mean that everyone is treated exactly the same. It does not mean there

is no room for judgment or discretion on the part of the leader. It does not mean a

formulaic approach to dealing with people. Leaders who demonstrate fairness look at

each situation, determine mitigating factors, make rationale decisions within a

framework of rules and have confidence in their own judgment.

Now, for the hard part. While character is a key component of leadership, it is hard to define, harder to measure and harder still, to teach. Perhaps leaders should be challenged to examine their own Internal Guidance Systems. Perhaps leadership development programs should explore the components of character more. Perhaps organizations should include more components of character in their expectations and evaluations of leaders.

Whatever the approach, leaders and organizations would be well-served by reflecting on the role that character plays in leadership effectiveness. Because in the end, when it comes to leadership, character "eats just about everything for breakfast."

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you agree with the premise that in leadership, "character trumps just about everything else."

  2. Character is sometimes difficult to define. Elaborate or add to the concepts of integrity, internal guidance system, candor and fairness.

  3. Do you agree that character is hard to measure and harder still, to teach? How can organizations emphasize this critical component of leadership?

  4. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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