There seems to be a tendency to overlook a lack of character in one’s personal and private life in exchange of a high degree of success in ones professional life. “The dysfunctions of many leaders are rooted in a common reality: Their capacities have been extensively trained while their character has been merely presumed” Author Bill Thrall. The ladder of success is actually composed of two ladders: capacity or competency and character. Both must be climbed at the same time. With each step I take on the capacity (competency) ladder, I need also step on the character ladder. The two ladders need to be integrated.
Capacity and competence are like glides. They can fly, but not indefinitely, and they might not hold up during turbulent times. Who you are, will take you much further than what you can do. Character will stand the test of time and hold up when the wind howls and the storm rages around you.
Most leaders focus too much on competence and too little on character. Most people plateau, quit, or are relieved of their leadership responsibility over character issues that competency issues.
In THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE, authors James Kouzes and Barry Psoner surveyed nearly 1,000 managers. The asked the following open ended question: “What values (personal traits or characteristics) do you look for and admire in your superiors? More than 200 different values, traits and characteristics were identified. Subsequent content analysis by several independent judges reduced these items into 15 categories. The category that got the most frequent response was integrity. They defined integrity as being truthful and trustworthy, and having convictions. As the study was conducted in the United States do you think a global study would come up with different results?
Being a person of character means that I am constant at home as I am in public, and I am a leader who can be trusted by my team, family and public. Competence is the engine and character is the steer that results in consistency. Your job should not define you, but the way you do your job reveals who you are. As all leaders if you are concerned with the bottom-line, focus on character because that will help you with the bottom-line.
Linda Hill and Kent Lineback argued in their blog post “Intentions are the heart of what we call character — the values, norms, goals, and priorities that drive someone’s actions and choices. People trust us because we have the right intentions, which are those intentions people accept and agree with.” Asking an uneasy question “What are the right intentions?”
There is no consensus on a definition of character. Here we want to define character through focusing on the values. Values are beliefs that people have about what is important or worthwhile to them. Values influence behavior because people seek more of what they value. If they can get more net value by behaving in certain ways, they will. So for example, will you prefer to do what’s right to doing what’s profitable? As simple as this question might be, answering it defines where your value is and what type of character you have as a leader.
Values therefore can be seen as the guideposts for behavior. Some people value their autonomy very highly, some value social interaction, some value the opportunity to be creative, some value work-life balance, and so on. It’s not unusual for leaders to experience value conflicts in certain situations. When loyalty conflicts with honesty, when fairness conflicts with pragmatism, or when social responsibility conflicts with obligation to shareholders, people become conflicted. It is in these conflicts of values where your character is developed. What are the values that shape your character?