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!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.