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Does a Leader’s Character Matter?

12 Sep. 2018 Posted by aadams

Randall Kratz, FEI Senior Account Manager

It seems like today, more than ever, we are talking about the role character plays in leadership. How big of a role does character play? Is it a skill that can be developed?

Building Kharakter

To better understand character and its relationship to leadership, let’s first understand it’s etymology. From the Greek word “kharakter,” a chisel or marking instrument for metal or stone, character is the mark etched into something enduring. We can develop mannerisms, but we must carve out character.

The meaning evolved in Hellenistic times to include “a defining quality, individual feature.” In early England (1600 – 1700), the meaning grew to include the “sum of qualities that define a person or thing and distinguish it from another,” that of “moral qualities assigned to a person
by repute.”

Character can clearly play a vital role in leadership and one’s managerial career. However, few leaders come to embrace its meaning and, because of this, miss opportunities. We all know when we see it, but few leaders know how to understand and use it.

Effective Leadership

For most of us, if we see that a leader’s character has serious flaws, we will likely not trust them. Leaders who lose trust are headed towards a no-win situation. On the other hand, leaders who have earned their employees’ trust can accomplish extraordinary things through motivation.

To further understand the role character plays in leadership, conduct the following exercise: Describe three of the most effective leaders you have worked for. Then, list three to five character traits that made each of them effective. Even if only anecdotally, notice what you learned about the connection between character and leadership.

The most important character we must be concerned with, of course, is our own. Our character influences how we lead, wherever we are. Few leaders make the connection between work and character in this way, let alone do something about it. Doing something provides you with a valuable and uncommon advantage at work.

Character and You

Which character values do you admire in the leaders you chose in the exercise?

To better understand, read the following introduction to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, in which the stoic philosopher and Roman emperor describes the character of the people who influenced his own character. His description of Maximus helps illustrate:

“From Maximus I learned self-government, and not to be led aside by anything; and cheerfulness in all circumstances, as well as in illness; and a just admixture in the moral character of sweetness and dignity, and to do what was set before me without complaining. I observed that everybody believed that he thought as he spoke, and that in all that he did he never had any bad intention; and he never showed amazement and surprise, and was never in a hurry, and never put off doing a thing, nor was perplexed nor dejected, nor did he ever laugh to disguise his vexation, nor, on the other hand, was he ever passionate or suspicious. He was accustomed to do acts of beneficence, and was ready to forgive, and was free from all falsehood; and he presented the appearance of a man who could not be diverted from right rather than of a man who has been improved. No man could ever think that he was despised by Maximus, or ever venture to think himself a better man. He had also the art of being humorous in an agreeable way.”

So, how might you describe the character values of the best leaders that you admired and which of those same character traits do you possess? Humility, supervisory courage, honesty, generosity, kindness, being candid, never complaining, always ready to forgive?

Choose a trait and intentionally practice it at work. Just be sure you clearly recognize the value of the trait at work, and that it’s something you want to emulate. This can be a simple way of utilizing a character strength in your day-to-day leadership as well as understanding how such a strength impacts you and those around you.

Be your best self at work and forge some new supervisory experiences by leading with your strongest character traits.

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