Building Character: Strengthening the Heart of Good Leadership
Leadership Character: Five Influential Attributes
Developing leadership character, like any other goal, requires a clear picture of what it takes to get there. By focusing on five key attributes — courage, caring, optimism, self-control and communication — leaders can begin to understand, practice and internalize the behaviors that build character.
"If you consciously develop the behaviors related to all five leadership attributes, your behaviors will complement each other and multiply your influence," says CCL's Gene Klann.
Courage. There are two kinds of courage: physical and moral. Leadership character requires moral courage. This means standing up for one's convictions and values while risking criticism, censure, ridicule or persecution. It can also mean a willingness to risk loss of power, position, possessions or reputation. It means doing what you believe is right and being willing to take an unpopular position. Moral courage inspires respect for several reasons: it is viewed as being a selfless form of behavior; it is seen as a sign of having overcome fear; and it implies that leaders take responsibility for their own actions.
Caring means sincere interest in and genuine concern for others. It includes consideration, compassion, empathy, sympathy, nurturing and altruism. Caring does not mean tolerating or ignoring shoddy performance, violations of company policies, bad attitudes, dishonesty or slothfulness. But neither does it mean running a business like a country club where people do as they please. Caring does mean seeing humans as the most important resource in an organization-and the resource with the most overall potential. If leaders treat their followers with caring behaviors such as appreciation, understanding, courtesy, attention, loyalty and encouragement, the leaders will be rewarded with cooperative and supportive behavior in return.
Optimism is the tendency to take the most hopeful and cheerful view of things and to expect the best outcome. Optimists are upbeat and positive. They see opportunities, possibilities and silver linings in every situation. Optimism cannot mean a Pollyannaish attitude that ignores the reality of the situation and lives in denial of the real world. It requires leaders to fully accept reality -but still contend that, with hard work, focus, resilience and a bit of luck, a positive outcome is possible. Behaviors associated with optimism include risk taking, innovating, creativity, hopefulness, cheerfulness, good spirits and confidence. People are naturally drawn to leaders who are positive, upbeat and cheerful. When something important needs to get done, those being led are motivated and even inspired by a leader who behaves in a way that says, "We can do this!" Optimism also encourages perseverance and patience. When everything looks hopeless, optimism can cause the leader and those being led to keep pushing and driving and not give up.
Self-control means control over one's own emotions, actions, desires and passions. Leaders must choose what they will do and not do and then accept the consequences of their choices. This includes personal discipline in behaviors and lifestyle. For leaders, self-control also means doing things that normally have a high positive influence on others and avoiding those that have a negative influence. Self-control implies that you as a leader have sufficient drive and initiative, as well as a clear vision and focus, to concentrate on success-oriented, career-enhancing behaviors. Self-control is the foundation of long-term personal achievement. It keeps a person motivated and focused on goals. It also contributes to momentum. Without personal discipline, things don't get done. When self-control is in place, a leader has the strength of will to do many of the things that others may find extremely difficult, which earns the leader respect and admiration and, ultimately, maximal influence.
Communication includes the attitudes and skills that underlie effective direct interpersonal interactions. There are, of course, several methods of interpersonal communication - written, verbal, and nonverbal signs, attitudes and body language, as well as communication through actions and appearance. Listening is also an important tool. The communicative leader can take advantage of all this for a positive influence on others. The leader's communication casts vision. It establishes direction, shapes goals and objective, reinforces key values and clarifies tasks. It creates a focus and concentration that drives the effort of everyone on the team, business unit or within the organization. Communication also reveals and provides welcome insights about the leader. It can disclose the leader's authenticity, sincerity, genuineness and virtually every other aspect of a leader's character. Communication makes the emotional connection that is so critical in effective leadership.
This article is adapted from Building Character: Strengthening the Heart of Good Leadership by Gene Klann (Jossey-Bass, 2006).
Leading is Personal: Purpose, Authenticity and Survival
July 2003 Issue
Ethics and Leadership
October 2004 Issue
Finding Your Balance
January 2005 Issue
The Looking Glass Experience
This program shows you how you lead and influence others in an organization. You will learn how to make difficult, complex decisions - and you will learn how your particular leadership style affects your workplace, those you work with and ultimately, your own success as a leader.
Building Your Team's Morale, Pride, and Spirit
Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader
Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground
Developmental Assignments: Creating Learning Experiences without Changing Jobs
Selling Yourself without Selling Out