There are many skills necessary to be a good leader or supervisor. For example, setting SMART goals is critical for employee engagement and success. Communicating often, holding people accountable, and being skilled at conducting performance review and other challenging conversations are also skills needed to make the "good boss list." Mastering these skills will not only make for an effective leader but also help employees find success and gratification in their daily work activities.
In addition to mastering specific skills, effective leaders must live by and display many qualities. While not an exhaustive list, outstanding leaders must also show these qualities:
Energetic Communicative Knowledgeable
Confident Persistent Honest
Dedicated Creative Caring
Humble Disciplined Passionate
Fair Flexible Humorous
Trustworthy Courageous Empathetic
Yes, that’s quite a list. Is it possible for a leader to be all of these things all of the time? That should certainly be the goal of every leader. There are times, though, when a leader fails to display each of these traits.
For example, on those days when a leader is sick, energy levels may be a bit low. Have a fight with the spouse? You may not feel like laughing at work. Kids go off the rails at school or abuse your parental trust? You may not be flexible at work with your employees (after all, sometimes managing people is much like parenting kids!). Have an accident on your way home from work, laptop crashed, or got beat up by a customer or your own boss? You may not even want to go into the office the next day!
Life happens. When it does, you may be less than your best leader-self. Hopefully, though, it’s just a momentary setback and with a little time, you’re back to your energetic, light-hearted, flexible self.
While each of these leadership characteristics may have some flexibility, there are two characteristics that are not negotiable. Two traits that, when violated, bring your entire leadership and even personal convictions into question. The first of these two traits is high moral character.
Often during leadership workshops, after listing all of the leadership traits above (including character and our second trait we’ll name later), I will ask which two are most important. Things like honest, caring, and trustworthy jump off the lips of most participants. No, no, and no. It takes a while but we finally hit our first key trait, character.
Hold on here. What about honesty and trustworthiness – aren’t they critical characteristics for a leader? Absolutely! But not as critical as being a leader with high character. Why? Because you might be honest but not a caring leader. You may be trustworthy and believable but not humble or persistent.
If, however, a leader has high character, then he/she will also be honest, trustworthy, caring, persistent, . . . You see, everything flows from character!
That’s why character must be uncompromising, because a lack of character ruins leadership ability. In other words, people will forgive a leader who has a low-energy day or sends out a poor communication. But have a lapse of character? Your entire leadership ability will be called into question – for a long time!
Sadly, business history is littered with low-character leaders. Who remembers Bernie Ebbers (Worldcom)? Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco)? Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling (Enron)? Just a few years ago, there were countless Wall Street, bank, and mortgage executives whose greed sent our entire economy into a tailspin. More recently, lack of moral character allowed Wells Fargo to fraudulently set up thousands of fake accounts.
I am both amazed and dismayed that character as a key leadership quality is not a given for some people. Take, for example, Theo Epstein, General Manager of the Chicago Cubs (of which I'm a true fan!).
Mr. Epstein is obviously skilled at building winning baseball teams, winning two World Series with Boston and then again with Chicago. But after years of building teams, it was not until a few years ago that Mr. Epstein figured out that character is important!
After Boston's World Series teams started to disintegrate, Mr. Epstein joined the Cubs and insisted in acquiring "only players with outstanding makeup." He said character was not just important, it was essential to his blueprint of winning another World Series.
At 28 years old, Mr. Epstein was the youngest general manager in baseball history when he took that position with the Boston Red Sox in 2002. Fifteen years later, as President of Operations for the Cubs, he finally realized that character is the most important leadership quality.
So there’s hope! While business still has (and probably always will have) leaders who don’t protect their character and live by the highest standards possible, other leaders can grow and learn like Mr. Epstein. Let’s hope Mr. Epstein’s experience becomes a growing trend!
What do you think? Is character the most important quality? What would you put ahead of character?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.