The conversation on character and ethics in leadership has taken center stage. It's prompted many prominent leaders and companies to ask one very important question: How important is character? Is a leader's character as essential as any other qualification of his or her job?
This question demands an answer, one that I've provided in my book: The Enemies of Excellence . In over 30 years of working with executives and teams, I've learned how the best indicator of a leader’s success and positive impact is the quality of their character.
There's a myth circulating in leadership circles that a great leader is defined by their results. However, when we examine this premise, we question this conclusion. There is a long list of greatly productive leaders throughout history who were tyrants. It's not just the output of what a leader is able to accomplish that matters, but the quality of his or her character. Let me explain.
The average day in the life of most leaders begins with an agenda. This may be an open page in a planner or calendar filled with a list of tasks. Success, we think is measured by how efficient we are in checking off this list of tasks. If we can just get it all done, then we've succeeded. Or have we? I believe character is more important that productivity. A person's character over time is the determining factor to finishing strong or failing miserably. And remember - failed leaders harm organizations and the valuable people that serve in them.
Character is the engine that drives leadership excellence. It is the source from which every decision in our life is made. Therefore, character has the greatest influence on a leader's future. It is our greatest competitive advantage against corruption. Without character, people and empires crumble.
The failure of the Roman Empire is fascinating, and it provides an excellent case study on how a leader's success can crumble from lack of good character. Rome, one of the largest, most powerful and feared forces in the world, essentially rotted from within. Its rulers placed their greed and gratification above the good of the state and the people. Lack of self-control led to the downfall of an entire civilization. The only traces of this empire left now are in ruins observed by tourists.
As leaders, we want lasting success. But too often, we're unwilling to look at our character and determine what's holding us back from experiencing greatness. Here is list of essential areas we should examine to keep our character on track:
- Thought life
When you look at this list, ask yourself the following three questions:
1. How have I demonstrated positive character?
2. I failed to demonstrate good character by...
3. In the future, I will demonstrate good character by…
Don't be discouraged. Character is harder to build than talent and skill - but it is so worth it!
To the strength of your character,