In my previous blog post, we established the primary element of effective leadership, character. A review of that article comes down to two statements:
1. Without high character, it is impossible to lead effectively and leave
a long-lasting legacy.
2. Character is engraved in our soul. It's our true north.
So the next question is how does someone develop character? For our purposes here, we won’t get into questions such as genetics – are you born with good or bad character? And there’s character development during early years at home. Were you raised in a high-character environment which helped build character without even thinking about it? School also plays a part in character development as we grow. If someone is blessed to be in a good school or have high-character teachers, they can develop high character without really trying.
While these points are certainly valid and critically important for character development, our discussion will focus on our adult years. How can we develop our character, either repairing our damaged reputation from past behavior or working to improve and protect the character we’ve developed over the years?
Stephen Covey says we build character by overcoming challenges and adversity. Helen Keller had a similar thought, saying character is developed through experience, trial, and suffering. Author Grenville Kleiser said character is developed through self-discipline and self-control.
The above thoughts are certainly true but waiting for those stressful life challenges to develop our character is a risky proposition. Preparing for those character-defining moments is a much better option! Expending time and energy on the following eight “Be’s” will not only develop your character but also develop your leadership abilities.
Be authentic: People want to follow leaders who are “real.” Strong character requires genuineness or authenticity in all aspects of your life. In groups large and small, in public and in private, leaders must show the same “face” and be consistent in both words and behaviors.
Be humble: Sadly, in today’s “Look at me!” culture perpetuated by constant Facebook and Instagram posts, modesty is seen as a weakness by some people. This is not the case for leaders. Let’s be clear – humbleness is not thinking little of yourself. It is, though, being self-aware or having an accurate assessment of your abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Being humble also means being mindful of others, typically putting their needs ahead of yours.
Be reassuring: There are many related words here such as be comforting, be calm, be uplifting, and be positive, encouraging, and supportive. Leaders with strong character have a “presence” about them that helps others be confident and poised in any situation, particularly in times of stress and ambiguity.
Be a truth seeker: Leaders with strong character don’t allow their biases, prejudices, and emotions guide their words and actions. Strong character demands truth and facts and when those truths are uncomfortable or even hurtful, leaders with character handle the situation with a sense of caring and compassion.
Be courteous: The world is getting more and more harsh. It’s getting more difficult to have a meaningful conversation with people who might disagree with your particular thought. Accept differences in people, be polite to everyone, and always offer a kind word or helpful deed.
Be selective: Surround yourself with people of character. Let their character rub off on you. Challenge you. Choose your friends and your business associates wisely. We are often known by the company we keep so be sure the people surrounding you add to your character rather than subtract from it.
Be last: Seek the background rather than the limelight. By default, most leaders get the attention. Leaders with strong character realize their success is often the result of many others working hard. So shine the spotlight on others and offer generous amounts of praise and thanks. Remember what Simon Sinek said — Leaders Eat Last.
Be protective: No one can take your character but you can certainly give it away. Be wise in your decisions and guard your character as the treasure it is.
Can leaders be effective without practicing the above “Be’s”? Absolutely! History is full of less-than-honorable leaders who have made huge impacts on the world, usually with dire consequences on people and society.
A lasting, positive impact, though, requires a leader to have a strong character that guides their thoughts and actions. This type of leader most certainly makes the world a better place.
Our world is in desperate need of leaders with strong character. Will you be one of them?
A few months ago (sorry I’ve been absent for so long!) we explored the idea of hiring or promoting people into supervisor positions based on their ability to connect with other employees, particularly the people she or he is leading. But is the “connection factor” the only consideration when selecting that next manager?
Of course not. There’s job knowledge. There’s past and current performance. Tenure. Is there a backfill ready to take the place of the person being promoted? These are just a few questions to ask.
And then there’s character.
Stated more accurately: It starts with character.
Character, along with vulnerability, are the two most important attributes needed for effective leadership. Character is important because all other leadership characteristics flow from this above-all-else trait. But no one is perfect. So when there’s a minor lapse of character (nothing major like lying, stealing, or cheating), effective leaders must be able to admit their wrongdoing, apologize, and try their best never to allow that lapse again.
But what is character? Most quotes – and there are many great ones – simply use the word ‘character’ with the understanding that we know it when we see it.
"Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character." ~ John Wooden
"Character is much easier kept than recovered." ~ Thomas Paine
"I look forward to a day when people will not be judged by the color or their skin, but by the content of their character." ~Martin Luther King Jr.
While these quotes are right on target, they do little to tell us what character is, much less how to build it (we’ll tackle the building part in a later post).
What Is Character?
I started this post thinking it would be fairly easy to write even given the weightiness of the subject. That is proving to be a false thought. That’s because character is hard to pin down. We know it when we see it. And after being with certain people, we feel the presence of character.
Numerous words are associated with character: integrity, ethics, honesty, principles, accountability, fairness, honor, trustworthiness, sincerity, responsible, virtue, thoughtful, love, caring, reliable, and core values. All great words and when someone exemplifies at least several of these traits, we say she or he has good character. But is that all there is to character, just a collection of words?
I think the Greeks can help us here. Passing back in time, through Middle English (character) and then Old French (caractere), we ultimately find our origins in the Greek word kharaktēr, which is “engraved mark” or “scratch” and later was used to distinguish one thing from something else.
So character is something that is scratched in us. Something that is engraved in us, marking us and distinguishing us. It’s who we are. It’s our “true north” that drives all of our behavior all of the time.
Effective leaders must be more than a few words or behaviors such as caring and sincere. Some leaders can care for a while or show fairness most of the time and even be reliable on most occasions. But if these traits are not their “true north,” their effectiveness will most likely be short-lived and the legacy they leave behind will be tarnished at best.
Exceptional leaders must have high standards “engraved” in their core being. These standards guide their decisions, helping them choose right over wrong and directing them to care for each individual in their leadership world.
That’s it. A leader’s job is that “simple.” A leader with character will obsessively and exhaustively strive to help his/her team find success. The leader will care, be fair, be truthful, and be passionate. This leader will do all of these things both in public for everyone to view and in private when no one is looking. A leader with character will not compromise the team in order to gain success for himself/herself. Again, it’s about the team, not the leader.
"Goodness is about character -- integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people." ~ Dennis Prager
Want more thoughts on this topic? Check out these previous blogs! And then let me know what you think!
What’s the most important decision a company makes?
While each of these is important, none of them is the most important question a company should ask. It’s not even the second most important decision a company can make.
By far, the most important decision a company makes is who to hire. Each and every employee who joins the company makes the organization either a little better or a little worse. He or she can be an ambassador thus attracting more talent or can be toxic and push current employees out the door. So inviting new employees to join the organization is of utmost importance.
The second most important decision – ahead of new plants, new products, new services, new office space, new policies, and hundreds of other decisions – is who to promote into a management position.
Why such an emphasis on who becomes a manager? Because, as the saying goes, no one quits a company; they quit a boss.
Managers, particularly frontline managers, wield influence over other employees. These supervisors are responsible for the performance and engagement of multiple employees so the organizational impact these leaders have is significant. Choosing the right people to manage other employees is therefore elevated to silver medal status on the decision-making podium.
Is there a key element in choosing first-time supervisors and promoting supervisors to ever-higher authority levels? Yes! And it can be found in one word:
That’s what makes for a good manager — the ability to connect with others.
When I work with organizations, I’m amazed at some of the managers I meet. They don’t smile. They don’t talk much. When they do talk, it’s more of a mumble. And that’s just during introductions!
When we begin talking about management, it’s clear they don’t have good interpersonal skills which most often results in poor performance for both the team and the supervisor. I’ve even come across one manager who flat out said, “I really just don’t like people.”
Liking people and having the ability to connect on a personal level is the most important factor in being an effective manager. Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi understood this. Yes, he was a very demanding “boss” and had high expectations from his “workers.” Yet he also cared for them deeply and expected the team to care for each other.
Author Michael Lee Stallard stated it this way in a September 2014 blog entry: "Vince Lombardi had a passion for relationship excellence too. He loved his players. He told them they must love one another and said love made the difference on their team.”
That idea of loving your teammates can be found in the report Future Work Skills 2020. This research points to Social Intelligence as being one of ten key skills required for business success:
Social Intelligence: the ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.
Organizations must move away from promoting people simply based on things like individual performance or tenure. Certainly these items are part of the promotion equation but the overriding selection criteria is the people factor. An effective manager is someone who is both likable and who likes other people. Key to an organization's success, then, is finding those supervisors who deeply care for the people in their charge.
As Simon Sinek once said: "How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything -- for better or for worse."
What do you think? Agree? Or is there a different #1 factor for supervisor success?
I love my wife. That’s one reason we’ve stayed married over 30 years. We love watching movies, traveling, and cooking together (she is most certainly the cook, I just stir when she tells me).
I also appreciate my wife. I appreciate the way she decorates the house and makes it feel “homey.” I appreciate how she keeps the house running by balancing our family finances. And I appreciate how she keeps me informed about family and friends by reading me Facebook posts.
And I value my wife. The thing I value most is how she makes me a better me. She keeps me looking good through her great sense of fashion, helps me find the right words to difficult conversations, and regularly offers advice on my speaking business. While I may not always treat her like the treasure she is, I value and cherish her beyond words.
So what’s the difference between the three? Is one more important than the other? Do I really need all three for a successful marriage? Let’s start this brief exploration with a few definitions:
Love: To have a profoundly tender, passionate affection for.
Appreciate: To be grateful or thankful for; to be fully conscious or aware of.
Value: Consider someone or something to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.
In simpler terms, love is about an emotional connection, appreciation is thankfulness, and value reflects importance and worth.
So, yes, for a successful marriage, I would say all three are needed. And it’s all three that helped Pat and me celebrate 31 years last November.
But what about the corporate world? Do leaders need these three characteristics to be effective? As in marriage, I would say yes.
Let’s start with love. Not to sound too soft or mushy, but I’m convinced that a love for people is required for positive, effective leadership. I’m not talking about a passionate love one has for a spouse or a child but a love based on friendship. Plato and Aristotle talked about philia love which is reflected in shared goodwill. It’s a love that wants to connect with people on a real basis and wants to see others succeed.
Next is appreciation which is about gratitude. Being thankful for the work a colleague or direct report does and for the results they bring to the team. Key here is actually expressing that thankfulness with words.
Which brings us to Value, an emotion or characteristic that is (sadly) rarely shared. Valuing teammates or direct reports is about acknowledging a person’s worth, their gifts, and how they make the team better.
This is especially true for people who are different from ourselves. For example, I’m a pretty loud person. And I’m funny — at least I think so. And if there was a team full of me’s, we would have a blast! It would be a constant party! Can’t promise how much work we’d accomplish but we’d have fun trying.
For me to be my best and for my team to be its best, I need someone on my team who is a little quieter and someone who is a little more serious. I need that person to tap me on the arm during a meeting and say, “Hey, let’s be serious for a minute.”
By that same token, the quiet person needs me, the person who craves conversation and banter. That quiet person needs me to say, “Hey, we’ve heard from everyone but you and your opinion is important. Let’s hear it.”
You see, together, that quiet, serious person makes me a better me. And the loud, lighthearted person I am can bring out some of the same in that quiet, serious person. And together, we’ll do great work!
I need that person! I value that person for how they challenge me and make me better. And how they make the team better!
I’m convinced leaders need all three emotions in order to build a high-performance team. Organizations can also have an impact on performance and engagement by building cultures that revolve around fostering relationships, recognition, and valuing people for the unique individuals they are.
But how? Can an organization really build a culture that revolves around these three critical characteristics? Absolutely! And we’ll explore that next month!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.