Character: Is It Necessary In Leadership? (Part Two)

One element of leadership that many leaders ignore or neglect is character.  Is it a necessary ingredient in leadership?  The author answers the question with the challenging observation that character can actually drive leadership results.

By Brent Filson - 2005

In the first part of this two part article, I talked about the importance of character in leadership.  After all, the best leadership involves the people bonding with the leader in deep, human, emotional ways.  The passive way of looking at character is that the bonding won’t happen if the people are confused about or disdain your character.  But there is also an active way of looking at character: You can use aspects of your character to actually promote results. Your best character traits can be turned results-multipliers.  Here’s how.

By the way, the results I’m talking about don’t necessarily have to be organizational results. Many leaders have used my processes in their lives outside their organizations, with teenagers or with their spouses, for example, and not simply as a "leadership" process. Who you are as a leader should be intertwined with who you are as a person. If your leadership is not your life, you diminish both your leadership and your life.

To begin with, select any one of the character traits you identified in Part One.  We will focus on ways to use that trait to get increases in results, however you define those results.

For example, the trait "always ready to forgive" can be a results driver, because it enables you to clear the air with the people you need to help you get results. After all, if you’re always ready to forgive slights and perceived slights, you avoid blame shifting and finger pointing — both impediments to organizational results. 

Epictetus (AD 55–135), another stoic philosopher, said, "Small-minded people habitually reproach each other for their own misfortunes. … Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame someone or something is foolishness. … The more we examine our attitudes and work on ourselves, the less we are apt to be swept away by stormy emotional reactions in which we seek easy explanations for unbidden events."

Although one’s relationships in leadership are predicated on results, the most effective results-producing relationships arise when these relationships ultimately have nothing to do with results, when people respond to you not just as a leader but simply and profoundly as a human being.

Get your values and your character right and the rest of leadership is a matter of details. After all, freedom isn’t just in what you make happen, it’s also in what you let happen.

Furthermore, have the character trait you are acting on be a solution to your audience’s needs.

Put the character/solution into the soup of a results-challenge and then simply observe what cooks up. In other words, in a situation calling for results, act on the character trait you want to emphasize — in this case, being always ready to forgive — and observe the results.

Of course, with this trait, your effort won’t work unless there are hard feelings in the air, but finding someone exhibiting such feelings shouldn’t be difficult — if you’re leading well.  If your leadership challenges don’t lead to some people feeling overburdened, you’re not challenging them enough.

Take action with a group of people or an individual.  You might say something like, "I know we’ve had hard feelings, and if there’s blame to be handed out for causing them, you can look to me. But, as the first step in going after the new results, let’s start with a fresh slate.”

When focusing on this particular character trait, it’s important to avoid setting up conditions. Saying, for example, "If I do this, I expect you to do that" depreciates the trait. Character should exist without conditions, in you and for you, regardless of outside influences such as other people’s opinions. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be lasting character traits, but changeable sensibilities.

When we’re dealing with character and results, we can’t expect to force the results. Let them grow naturally out of the interaction. It’s like putting a seed crystal into a supersaturated solution. Given the proper solution and the right tension, you get an organic eruption of crystals. That’s why I emphasize that you should understand and acquire the power of being be an observer.

Focus on putting the trait into action as a solution for the needs of your cause leaders in order to increase results.

Remember, the trait of always being ready to forgive is just one of many you can work on. No matter which trait you’re developing, use the process I’ve just described to manifest it for results.

In the long run, the important thing about leadership is not what we achieve but who we become in our achievements.  A focus on our character, not only for the sake of character itself but also for the kinds of results character engenders, will make that becoming a treasure of our lives.


2005© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"