The Character of Leaders

As many of you know, I am a huge advocate of character as the foundation for great leadership.  It’s been my experience over the past 30 years both within university and business, that the character of the leader has more to do with ultimate success than anything else, including competence, courage, and certainly more than charisma.

Since character is therefore so critical to great leadership, what are the critical components of great character?

Element #1: Wisdom
Since character is the strength of your moral convictions, wisdom is the ability to discern right from wrong.  It centers on the moral foundations upon which you lead your life and your team.  Leadership wisdom has far less to do with accumulated book knowledge, college degrees, or even work experience than in the discernment, understanding, and recognition of morally right decisions.

Great leaders, therefore, have a clear understanding of the moral principles upon which they will lead.  It’s taking the time to uncover and define their “moral compass.”  Then everything they do is based upon their personal compass, what they stand for and against.

Element #2: Integrity
Integrity is wisdom in action, behaving in the ways you know are right rather than the ways that are merely expedient.  Leaders who lack integrity will often say things like, “Do as I say – not as I do.”  What they say and what they do are not aligned.  Simply stated, integrity is walking your talk.

In terms of leadership character, integrity is doing what you know is the right thing to do. Great leaders know what they stand for (wisdom) and are willing, therefore, to do as they say and believe.

Element #3: Self-discipline
Self-discipline is doing what is right (wisdom + integrity) even when you don’t want to.  Whether from overload, opposition, or exhaustion, self-discipline is the character trait that often separates good leaders from great leaders.  When we see self-discipline at work that is tied to both wisdom and integrity, then we are far more likely join in that work and complete the job regardless of the barriers or burdens.
Leadership Character in Action

One of the key reasons many of my clients hire me as their business/leadership coach is to not only help them crystallize their goals but to help hold them accountable for reaching their goals.  My coaching process teaches them a simple system for greater self-discipline that serves as a catalyst toward their ultimate success and significance.

Is working with such an accountability partner a sign of a weak character? Absolutely not!  It actually builds stronger leadership character.  Why? Aligning with an accountability partner (coach, colleague, other) demonstrates that the leader possesses both the wisdom and integrity to ask others to help hold them accountable to keep on doing the right things.

Your leadership character is built upon wisdom, integrity, and self-discipline.  All three are vital.  All three are necessary for you to be a leader of impact and significance.