To treat setbacks as learning opportunities, leaders need maturity and healthy self-concepts. Your self-concept and character elements make up the inner core of your leadership competencies and the source of your thoughts, emotions, and leadership behaviors.

Leaders deal with difficult people, situations, and challenges every day. Difficult situations carry the possibility of failure. Teaching leaders how to deal with failure is one of the priorities of leadership coaching.

Failures can pile up on us, filling our reservoir of leadership experiences with negativity. This virtual reservoir is a fuel tank for the intelligent leader. Filling it with positive personal or vicarious experiences is, therefore, of the utmost importance.


Your inner core defines your leadership.

Whenever we face challenges, we reach into our personal reservoirs of leadership references. If we meet negativity there, we fall victim to learned helplessness.

In my book “Intelligent Leadership,” I point out that leaders unaware of their psychological vulnerabilities are unable to interpret failures or difficult situations and people with whom they regularly deal with Such an inability is an unsustainable leadership weakness.

The Dangers of Learned Helplessness

Building a reservoir of positively charged references is not easy. It requires intentionality. For a leader who is not aware of the existence of this reservoir, being intentional about building it is impossible.

Without a reliable way to interpret and store negative experiences, leaders teach themselves to be helpless when facing certain situations.

If you fail repeatedly at a task, your immature brain (lacking higher awareness) grows to think you can never succeed at it. It learns you’re “supposed” to fail.

The tools that allow leaders to combat learned helplessness stem from deep awareness and the understanding of one’s own character, aka a strong self-concept. This, coupled with the elements that make up your character, constitutes the innermost source of your leadership: your inner core.

Your Inner Core

Self-concept involves the image of ourselves we build up from our beliefs and the ways others relate to us. Mature leaders shape their beliefs and treat the reactions of others with due caution and an objective eye.

The elements that make up one’s character are:

  • Courage
  • Loyalty
  • Diligence
  • Modesty
  • Honesty
  • Gratitude

Your Elements of Character

The six elements of character exist in permanent interdependence, complementing and supporting one another.


Courage is the catalytic source of the other virtues. It allows leaders to do good after they identify what’s right and wrong. Without courage, there is no consistency, and inconsistent leaders cannot motivate or inspire others.


As I’ve stated in my business coaching posts, loyalty is the basic sustaining framework and energy of every community. Disloyalty erodes communities, hierarchical leadership structures, trust, and organizations.


Executive coaching relies on a foundation that allows leaders to be steady performers while giving them platforms they can use to minimize setbacks. These platforms and foundations equal diligence. Coupled with accountability, diligence is the undeniable fuel of personal and organizational success.


Modesty is the mature leader’s anchor to reality. Modest leaders keep their emotions grounded and their views of themselves and their organizations prudent. The perpetual counterbalance to arrogance, modesty boosts improved decision-making and outcomes.


Modesty keeps you grounded in reality. 


Honesty is the foundation of trust. Mature leaders understand dishonesty may present tempting shortcuts, but a genuine, aboveboard existence always trumps such short-term gains. A minor, honest profit is more valuable than a major one incurred through dishonesty.


Mature leaders are grateful for their experiences, positive and negative. Those who know how to relate to setbacks with maturity see them as nothing more than learning opportunities and deserving of gratitude. Grateful leaders find it easier to appreciate the efforts of others and offer genuine praise.

In my Wheel of Intelligent Leadership, I define character and self-concept as the sources of values, beliefs, and references. From these, the emotions, thoughts, and behavioral tendencies that define your leadership style and effectiveness stem.


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