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Exploring the Six Elements of Character for Leaders
The interdependence of character and values defines how leaders make their decisions and experience leadership. Leadership character elements like courage, loyalty, diligence, modesty, honesty, and gratitude comprise leaders’ inner cores. These character elements define leaders’ values, interests, attitudes, and actions. Leadership coaching seeks to effect positive change on the deepest levels of the inner core.
Your character elements define your inner core and determine your leadership destiny.
Leadership character is like a block of marble or granite, with the foundations of the leader’s value system etched onto its surface. Together with one’s virtues, these values define character.
We build our characters throughout our lives. Some of us carefully etch and chisel the metaphoric blocks of stone that serve as the foundations of our characters. Others carelessly hack away at them. Ideally, a leader’s character sculpture should be a precious work of art.
Your character defines your leadership destiny.
Leadership coaching can help leaders shape, chisel, and carve their characters into solid and reliable foundations for their inner and outer core leadership competencies.
Elements of character like courage, loyalty, diligence, modesty, honesty, and gratitude serve as a leader’s innermost source of leadership, together with his or her self-concept.
In this article, I dissect the six elements of character for leaders, detailing each and identifying how they shape and mold one’s leadership.
Courage: The Foundation of Character
“…without courage, you can’t practice any virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou.
True, authentic courage, which has leaders act out of conviction over feeling, is the hallmark of mature, successful leaders. Some may equate courage with fearlessness. And they would be wrong to do so.
The main difference between courage and fearlessness is that the latter is impulse-born, while the former is the result of a strong character and solid values.
Unlike momentary acts of heroism, courage is consistent. And leadership coaching understands that it is inspirational due to its consistency.
A courageous leader embraces change and inspires innovation. Knowing the right thing isn’t the same as doing the right thing. The ingredient that links the two is genuine, consistent leadership courage.
Loyalty: The Glue of Relationships
“There is nothing like a really loyal, dependable, good friend. Nothing.” – Jennifer Anniston.
If trust is the hard currency of leadership, loyalty is its equivalent in relationships. We build our relationships on something I call in my books mutuality of commitment. And without loyalty, this mutuality can’t happen.
In the context of leadership, loyalty translates to a willingness to deflect credit for successes toward others while assuming responsibility for failures.
Mature leaders understand that loyalty works wonders upward and downward. Successful leaders know that building meaningful relationships with their reports and followers is as important as having such relationships with their superiors.
It is enough for a mid-level executive to show disloyalty downward or upward. By doing so, such leaders disrupt the fabric of loyalty in their organizations and undermine the organizational culture.
Successful organizations see loyalty as the gel that holds together positive and constructive organizational cultures conducive to collective and individual success.
Diligence: The Path to Leadership Excellence
“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Benjamin Franklin.
Diligence is the foundation of leadership progress. It is a necessary but insufficient prerequisite for success. It may not be enough for stellar leadership, but no leadership success is possible without it.
Diligence is also the mother of learning.
Mature, successful leaders know that there are no shortcuts to meaningful results. Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha, is perhaps the highest-profile leader who credits diligence for his success. His philosophy focuses on continuous learning as a way of being a consistently successful and inspirational leader.
Elon Musk is also famous for his work ethic. The SpaceX CEO won’t shy away from tackling complex engineering challenges through persistence and hard work.
Coupled with accountability, diligence creates a constructive feedback loop that can consistently power organizational and individual success.
Modesty: Living Within Limits
“Modesty is the key to success.” – Paul the Apostle.
Among the essential leadership character traits for success, modesty is the opposite of arrogance.
Through its role in leadership character, modesty allows leaders to maintain a competitive edge by remaining open to the perspectives and views of others.
Modesty goes hand-in-hand with confidence. Though confident, wise leaders know they have limits and must cooperate with others. Modesty grants leaders an emotional balance that allows them to approach problems calmly. Having secured the cooperation and buy-in of others, such leaders can obtain better outcomes and be more effective team leaders.
Honesty: A Pillar of Relationships and Positive Energy
“Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” – James E. Faust.
Together with loyalty, honesty is an indispensable ingredient of meaningful relationships. Great leaders know that honesty underpins work relationships, teamwork, and positive organizational cultures. Such leaders value honesty more than profitable business deals.
The long-term positive impact of honesty on organizational performance is something business coaching knows too well and never underestimates.
Indra Nooyi, Pepsi’s former CEO, has always been an outspoken advocate of honesty in business and leadership. Her honesty-based approach to the web of relationships that comprise organizations and the business world has earned her widespread recognition and respect.
A lack of honesty poisons leadership, work relationships, and organizational performance. Only immature leaders and employees turn to practices like pilfering company property, arriving late, pretending to be sick, and submitting padded expense reports and shaved tax forms.
Gratitude: Appreciating the Journey
“Living in a state of gratitude is the gateway to grace.” – Arianna Huffington.
Gratitude, as an element of character-based leadership, is the foundation of a healthy, positive organizational culture. As they lead by example, grateful leaders spread positive attitudes through their organizations by showing genuine appreciation for the contributions of their team members.
Great leaders are grateful for the sum of their leadership experiences. These experiences comprise their reservoir of leadership references. The richer and more diverse this reservoir, the more versatile and resilient the leader who uses it for inspiration is.
Setbacks may seem like they can spoil a reference reservoir. At a closer look, however, they make it more potent. There are lessons in setbacks. And mature leaders know how to find and learn them.
Character and Values
In the context of leadership, character and values are intertwined. Values represent the visible expressions of one’s character. The two create a metaphoric iceberg, with one’s character elements hidden from sight beneath the waves and the tip of values sticking out.
Character and values form a metaphoric iceberg.
Striking a balance in the interplay between values and character should be every leader’s goal. Leaders’ characters define their values. Their values determine their interests and attitudes. And the attitudes serve as the source of their actions.
Mature, self-aware leaders understand their values, differentiating between immediate and ultimate values.
One’s immediate values may be shorter-sighted goals, like money and family. Ultimate goals may be the love, happiness, and freedom money and family can deliver.
In addition to differentiating between their immediate and ultimate values, mature leaders master their values by:
- Understanding what they value the most
- Understanding why and how their hierarchy of values may differ from what their characters dictate
- Knowing that only the ultimate values that align with their characters can serve as the foundation of their leadership strengths.
Values that deviate from one’s character are temporary and rarely solid enough to support long-term development or genuine leadership skills. Strong values weigh heavier in decision-making.
Harnessing the Power of Character and Values
To harness the power the understanding of values and character offers them, leaders must delve deep.
Once they understand their values in isolation and in relation to their other values, they decipher their decision-making.
These are the steps to harness the interplay between character and values:
- Isolating individual values
- Exploring one’s unique hierarchy of values
- Assessing which values deviate from one’s character and how
- Understanding the source of bad and conflicting decisions
- Determining the pain/pleasure ratio a given decision will likely create
- Engaging in self-reflection to determine what emotional states one wants to avoid
- Ranking these emotional states and drawing conclusions
If leaders find that they want to avoid rejection more than fear or uncertainty, they understand why they make the decisions they make and why they lead the way they do.
Once they understand how their emotions and thoughts shape their behaviors, they can learn to control and channel them to improve as leaders and individuals.
The six key character elements, courage, loyalty, diligence, modesty, honesty, and gratitude, define one’s values, attitudes, thoughts, and leadership behaviors. These elements, together with one’s self-concept comprise the inner core.
To effect meaningful and effective change, leadership coaching drives clients inward, toward their inner cores. The changes that take place on this level bubble to the surface of the outer core. Lasting, meaningful outer-core change can only originate from profound inner-core changes.