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. This 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
6. 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!
When you read books about leadership, there are many points about what to do and what kind of person to be. But what about what not to do and what not to be? Those are just as important! That is why we want to take some time this week to discuss this very important topic, and hopefully challenge you to think about your own leadership situation. This week we focus on the kinds of mistakes great leaders don’t make!
1. Not Riding Momentum To increase your leadership effectiveness, you want to learn to ride the momentum of the situation (the positive momentum of course!). When we begin to experience bad momentum, we naturally try to stop it, and that is wise, but many people also have the tendency to try to stop the positive momentum as well. This comes from our basic desire to have things “under control.” Unfortunately, often when we try to control the situation, we actually stop the good that is happening. So, let go of the reins and ride the momentum! When you are rolling, let it roll!
2. Flaunting the Privilege of Leadership Leadership has its privileges, for sure, and rightly so! The entrepreneur who started the company ought to be paid well and reap the rewards for the risks they took. Unfortunately, human nature is still such that people can and do resent the success and privileges of others, even if those people worked hard for those privileges. Therefore, a great leader will not flaunt their privileges because it could cause a backlash and actually harm their ability to lead. Whenever possible, share the privileges and rewards of leadership, and your followers will love you all the more!
3. Picking People Who Won’t Threaten Them Great leaders will always try to pick people who are better than them! Again, human nature is such that we think, “Wait, if I hire her, she’ll have me out of a job in no time.” Then we pick someone of lesser quality, while our competitor hires the good one and surges ahead. Instead, great leaders are secure in themselves and will pick the best people available to them! If they are better than you, you will grow together as a team, you will still be the leader, and people will respect you for your ability to pick—and lead—a winning team!
4. Not Having a Second in Command Who Complements Them An ordinary leader picks someone who is like them so they can feel comfortable. An extraordinary leader picks someone who can do all the things that they can’t, someone who can see things in ways that they can’t. An extraordinary leader needs a right-hand person who can complement their skills and style. This way the old adage is proved true—two heads are better than one!
5. Not Giving Power Away An ordinary leader wants to do as much as they can so they can be seen as a good, hard worker. They think that they lead by example in this way. An extraordinary leader knows that they need to empower others to do the work and make the decisions if the organization is to grow and they are going to make a difference. We must let others take leadership themselves, even if it means they fail at first. This way, we multiply the organizational leadership and we enjoy greater success!
6. Unable or Unwilling to Make Hard Decisions Leadership is all about making decisions. People in non-leadership positions don’t like to make decisions because they operate from a subjective viewpoint. They aren’t thinking about the overall health of the organization; they are thinking about who might get offended or who might lose their job. While we want to be sensitive to these things, great leaders understand that sometimes hard decisions have to be made for the sake of the organization—and they make them.
7. Trying Not to Have Casualties This may be the greatest leadership lesson we’ve ever learned. Great leaders know that anytime the organization makes ground, there will be casualties. In the movie Gladiator, the lieutenant comes to tell Maximus that the troops are not fully ready for battle. Maximus sees that the other side is about to move and that if they don’t move first, they will lose the war. The lieutenant begins to say, “The casualties will be too great,” but Maximus finishes the lieutenant’s sentence so that instead he says, “The casualties will be ‘acceptable.’” Any time a group moves ahead, that is bound to happen. We shouldn’t look for or enjoy casualties, but we should understand they will assuredly come and accept them. So move ahead!
These are just a few of the mistakes that poor leaders make. If we stay aware of them, we can be assured we won’t repeat those mistakes. Here they are again, stated this time as what we should do:
1. Ride the momentum.
2. Don’t flaunt the privilege of leadership.
3. Pick people who are better than you.
4. Have a second in command who complements you.
5. Give power away.
6. Make hard decisions.
7. Allow for and accept that there will be casualties.