The Character of Leaders

“People will not follow a leader with moral incongruities for long.  Every time you compromise character you compromise leadership.  The foundation of firm leadership is character.”   Bill Hybels

With the passing of Senator John McCain, I found myself reflecting on my own leadership journey.  Much of that reflection is about the journey of who I am becoming, more so than what I did, or we accomplished.

This month we explore the nature of leadership, some thoughts about character and leadership behaviors, and a look at some of the skills that seem to separate leaders.  I hope this exploration will enlighten your own journey.

As always, I am grateful for your interest and comments.  Your thoughts not only expand the dialog, but help me and others to expand what and how we think. Thank you for sharing.

Be well and do your best work,


The Character of Leaders – One Man’s Reflection

I’m not sure where all of my assumptions, biases, and values about leadership come from, but I do know that they have evolved over a very long time.  My earliest memories were things my parents, grandparents, and other adults told me about the character of the individual.  I was taught that, above all else, tell the truth regardless of the personal consequences.  I came to understand integrity as having the courage to make my actions consistent with my words; to do what was right regardless of consequences.  I learned quickly that these to ‘lessons’ of character were very difficult to follow at times.

My initial observation of leaders were teachers and those in the church. It expanded from there.  From my earliest recollection I learned that charismatic leaders could be fun to listen to, and could often still  my emotions (think, Billy Graham, and Mr. Lyman, my 7th grade social studies teacher).  As my sophistication for understanding more of the nuance of leadership increased, I found an attraction to leaders/people who were humble.  They were quick to minimize their own role, preferring to build up and give credit to those around them.  There was something genuine about them that encouraged me to be more like them.

I came to understand that internal congruence of values and actions came from a deep inward journey.  As a result of this journey they came to be aligned, walking consistently the path of their words.  Today, we might say that their emotional intelligence was highly developed.  We would also say that we don’t see that level of congruity near enough in our leaders.

Regardless of how motivated they were by task or people, nor how assertive or nonassertive they were, the best leaders were good at relating to others.  They understood that leadership was the byproduct of relationship, that from relationship came their ability to develop influence with people.  Their primary goal was to understand what their people wanted from their work, their life, and how their job was connected to their definition of success.  They want to help their people to be successful in terms their people had defined.

They were men and women who had faith.  Faith in the ability of those around them to do well and solve even the toughest problems.  Faith in their ability to help others find the right path.  Their action spoke to that faith in the form of encouragement for the work of others.

They were people that wanted to serve.  People who serve understand that it isn’t about them, but about what people can accomplish together.  Their ego has ‘matured’ to the point of not needing a ‘front’ row seat at the parade.

When it comes to skill, leaders are competent; this means they get things done within the parameters given.  Their experience and success has taught them confidence.  Their experience has taught them that being good at what they do often includes teaching others.  They are good at holding people accountable.  They know that unless they do, they won’t be able to get the most important things done on time.  They also know that the most successful people want to be held accountable.

They tend to be good communicators.  They have learned how to express or write concisely, which improves clarity.  Their message is direct.  Their message will convey an appropriate amount of passion for the subject, particularly as it relates to their vision for their department, division, or organization.  They know what, how, and when to communicate.

What I have also learned on my leadership journey is that there are many times that are hard and messy.  They challenge what we really believe, and they challenge who we really are.  What makes the situation difficult depends on what value is being challenged.  Is the situation a core value that I won’t compromise under any circumstance, or is it a guiding value that might have some situational ‘wiggle’ room as to my choices?

There are circumstances that challenge who we really are.  In my younger days there were situations that I chose to do something that wasn’t congruent with what I believed, or who I wanted to be because it was easier, or would improve my popularity.  Those were the worst.  Those situations either required me to take an action to undo what I had done, or to live with and learn from the situation.  My experience is that living with a choice that is not our ‘true’ self is very hard.  I have also learned that life will present you with a ‘second chance’ to make a choice more congruent with who you want to be.  What will you do this time?  One such situation cost me my job.  That was okay, because by then I knew that choosing to do things that were incongruent with who I wanted to be was worse than keeping the job.

What I also observed during my time of reflection was that there are three key areas that are part of a person’s development that will serve to inform them if they choose to lead.  First, is how well we develop ourselves?  How well do we know ourselves?  What are the key values, attitudes, and interests that become our foundation?

This development will drive what we want in life and the choices we make. We will actively ask ourselves if what we are doing is getting us what we want, including the degree of congruity between those actions and what we believe.  A consistent ‘theme’ with the best leaders is their interest in serving the greater good and doing what is right.  While this path is being developed and evolving, they are also learning a set of skills that will help them to become more of who they want to be. They develop themselves and pursue a set of skills, knowledge and responsibilities that will help them become the highest version of themselves.

What I know on this journey is that it is not linear; the journey requires a number of ‘mulligans’ to improve our congruity with who we wish to become.  It is also not a wide path, but it is a rewarding path.

To your journey and living out the best version of you…


Of InterestWhat is a leader of character?

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