Our topic this month is Leadership, and when it comes to great leaders, we think of people like Winston Churchill, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. Thinking of leaders in those terms, it’s easy to think of leadership in a “far-off” context and forget that it relates to each of us in a very personal way. First and foremost, leadership is a state of mind. The great leaders of our time didn’t just one day decide that they wanted to lead a country. Instead, it was because of who they were and the character (which is the main topic of N.J.W discussion this week) they worked to form throughout their lives that, when the opportunity—and in some cases, crisis—presented itself, they were propelled into positions of strong leadership. In the same way, whether we like to think of ourselves as leaders or not, we are. So if we’ve taken the time to prepare our character and hone our leadership skills, when the opportunity presents itself—if we have done our homework—we will be ready.
Abraham Lincoln said that he would study and prepare himself so that he would be ready when opportunity came. As you go through this week, ask yourself, “Am I ready for when the next crisis comes or the next opportunity presents itself?”
Leadership, Part Two—Character: The Core of Leadership and Leadership Mistakes to Avoid
Remember our key phrase this month: You are a leader, and you can grow in your leadership position so that you can effectively lead the group around you, no matter what size it is!
This month we are covering the topic of Leadership:
- The Foundational Principles of Leadership and Developing a Powerful Vision. In last week’s lesson, I covered the basic foundational elements that are central to becoming a person with tremendous leadership skills and abilities. I also discussed secrets to having a powerful and compelling vision that helps you attract others.
- Character: The Core of Leadership and Leadership Mistakes to Avoid. This week I will look at what I believe is the core element of leadership—the issue of character. I will look at what it means to be a person of character who can lead others forward, and how character is essential to successfully lead others. I will also look at some typical leadership mistakes people make that hinder their ability to lead and move their organizations forward, and how you can avoid making those same mistakes.
- Skills Needed for Effective Leadership and Developing Other Leaders in Your Organization. Next week I will turn our eyes away from the character traits of leaders and look more at the basic skills effective leaders demonstrate. I will also be looking at some strategic ways to develop other leaders around you so you can ensure a new generation of leaders.
- Becoming the Best Leader You Can Be—Taking Care of Yourself as the Leader and Motivating Those Who Follow You—In Good Times and Tough Times. In the last week of this month, I will take a closer look at making sure you take care of yourself. In this day and age, it is even more important for the leader to closely guard their own growth and development. I will also look at how to motivate others to follow you.
Character: The Core of Leadership
There has been a lot of discussion lately about character and leadership. Most political elections today seem to have an element to them wherein one candidate suggests that the other doesn’t have the character that it takes to lead. Just a cursory glance at the business page in the newspaper shows a major discussion of character and ethics in the corporate world. Schools are rocked with scandal, as are some churches. Everywhere you turn, it seems as though there is a lack of character. But doesn’t this beg the question, “What is character?”
Here are a few definitions of character that I have found that, when put together, give us a good understanding of what character is:
1. Strength of mind, resolution, independence, individuality
2. Moral or ethical strength
3. Who you are when no one else is around
In other words, a person of good character is a person who has a strong moral base and acts on it. They have the core inner strength, fortitude and determination to do what is right, whether anyone else is there to validate it or not. They operate out of what is good and right, not out of personal expedience.
Once we have defined character, we must also ask: Why is character important? Character is important because it is what we place our trust in when dealing with other people. When we decide to follow a leader, we evaluate their life, their skills, etc., and then make a decision to trust them. We trust that they are who they say they are. We trust that they will do what they say. Trust is built on good people who are consistent in their goodness. Those are the people we can trust—and the leader/follower relationship is, at its core, one of trust.
Six Essential Traits of Good Character
The following are what I believe to be the basics of good character. Miss one of these, and you will find a weak link in your character—one that may be your leadership’s undoing. As you go through the following, soberly reflect on your life as it relates to these integral parts of good character.
- Integrity. Integrity is a good catch word that is similar to character but provides us with a different way of looking at the idea of character. The root of integrity means “whole” or “undivided,” and that is a terrific way to help us understand what integrity is—an undivided life. For example, you don’t act one way in one situation and another in a different situation. There is integrity and wholeness to your life. Living this way will build trust in your followers. Another use of the word integrity that provides insight for us is when the word is used in regard to a physical structure. A wall or a building that is strong and has no cracks is said to have integrity. The same could be said for great leaders.
- Honesty. It is regularly said that honesty is the best policy, but I would add that honesty is the only policy for great leaders. Think about it. Why do people hedge the truth? Usually for a few basic reasons: they are either afraid of the ramifications or they are trying to hide something. Either way, a lack of honesty results in the fact that you destroy the trust of those who follow you. Even if you tell them the truth, but they know you have lied to others, it will destroy the trust you had with them. They find themselves thinking, “If he will lie to them, will he lie to me?”
I have never understood what people hope to accomplish by being dishonest. As the Bible says, “Your sin shall surely find you out.” Eventually people come to know that you are not honest in your dealings, and that is what you become known for. Your reputation is what your leadership is based on, though. When we are honest and live transparently before our followers, they are able to see us for who we are and make solid decisions to follow.
Loyalty. People of good character are loyal people. They have a “stick-to-it” attitude when it comes to others. Anybody who knows human nature knows that people fail. It is just a matter of time, no matter how talented someone is. A person of good character stays with their friends even in the downtimes. Anyone can be friends with others when times are good. People of good character stay with their friends when they need them most. How this translates into making you a good leader is this: People want to follow a leader who will stretch them beyond where they are now, but who will also allow them to try—and to fail. When we are loyal to our followers, they will be loyal to us and make every effort to succeed on our behalf and on behalf of the organization. There are few things that strengthen the leader-follower bond more than when a leader shows their loyalty to a follower in need.
Self-Sacrifice. Lee Iacocca became a legend when he said that he would bring Chrysler back from the brink of bankruptcy and would take only a dollar a year in pay. This was a classic example of a leader sacrificing for the followers. It also showed his understanding of empathizing with the average line worker. As a result, the workers of Chrysler rewarded him with an incredible following as they built Chrysler into one of the world’s leading car companies. What is it about self-sacrifice that breeds followers? Followers do not mind putting in the hard work. They don’t even mind a leader making more money or reaping benefits from their work. What followers do mind, though, is when the leader is using them for personal gain. People of good character do not use other people, period. So when a leader shows sacrifice of personal gain, it says to the followers that they are willing to come alongside of them—and followers reward that almost universally. A person of good character shows that they can give up personal gain for the good of the whole.
5. Accountability. People of good character do not mind accountability. In fact, they welcome it. This is the act of allowing others to have a say in your life, to speak to you straight about your life and conduct. The brutal truth is that we have blind spots and need other people to be in close to us so we can advance down the road of success. The need for accountability doesn’t prove lack of character. Rather, it proves the presence of character. G.K. Chesterton said, “Original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by 3,500 years of human history.” The person of good character knows this and invites others to speak into their life.
We see this is especially true today with all that has gone on among our leaders lately. Followers are growing tired of leaders who will have nothing to do with accountability. They do not mind leaders who make mistakes, but they do mind leaders who do not take responsibility for their mistakes by being accountable. When we allow ourselves to be held accountable, our followers know that we are serious about keeping our own house in order, and thus will do a good job in leading the rest of the organization.
Self-Control. The ability to make decisions—good decisions—about what we will and will not do with our actions is at the core of what we become in regard to our character. There will be plenty of options to participate in things that are not moral. Everybody has temptations, but a person of good character knows to exercise self-control—literal control over their choices. When people do not exercise self-control, they sabotage their ability to lead. People lose respect for them and will follow less, if at all. Self-control is the ability to choose to do the things we should, and to refrain from doing the things we shouldn’t. When we exhibit self-control, we again build trust in our followers. They respect us and want to follow us.
You can strengthen your character. We are born with clean slates. As we grow, there are many influences that shape our character—our parents, teachers, friends and choices all mold that inner character. The good news is, no matter where you are right now, you can decide that your character will grow stronger. You can choose to be around those people who will challenge you to become better. You can choose to put positive materials into your mind and heart. You can begin making choices that reflect a change in lifestyle, and thus, in character. No one is “stuck.” You can change—if you want to!
Until next week, let’s do something remarkable!
-Nick James Co Founder of N.J.W Blog