Leadership and Character

Is character essential to leadership?

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Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

Dr. John C. Maxwell defines leadership as influence. We know that influence can be either positive or negative. We don’t have to look too far back in history to find leaders that had tremendous and terrible influence that led awful human rights atrocities and genocide. We can also find examples of leaders with positive influence who have made a difference in the world and for all the good reasons.

Influence is a good definition of leadership, after all without influence can you truly lead others? But influence alone is not enough and certainly doesn’t guarantee positive leadership or positive outcomes for those being led.

There are several attributes that leaders should have or should cultivate, but one attribute that is foundational and separates the mediocre from the excellent, is that of character.

Character creates an environment of trust, where the leader can be trusted and also trusts. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner state, “Sowing seeds of trust creates the fields of collaboration necessary to get extraordinary things done in organizations.” This extends beyond organizations to our communities and our families.

Author Tim Irwin suggests there are four dimensions to character: authenticity, self-management, humility and courage. When we think of the great leaders, whether in history or in more recent times, many of them have led with great character and we can see in them these four dimensions of leadership.

But do we see these four dimensions of character in the leadership of our organizations and in our communities? Do we see them in ourselves? What are we doing to cultivate character in our leaders and in the leaders of tomorrow? Have we shifted character to the “nice-to-have” column?

If we want to see change, or if we want to be part of the change, should we not consider a reinvestment into the building of character and insist that our leaders demonstrate not only influence but also character? 

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