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If you’ve wondered where all the good leaders have gone, you’re not the only one.

According to a new study by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and U.S. News and World Report, 70% of Americans think that our country is in a leadership crisis. Public confidence in leadership within the education, religion and business sectors is low and getting lower.

CCL’s Gene Klann, who wrote Building Character: Strengthening the Heart of Good Leadership, says that when people have disappointment or mistrust in their leaders, they are, in fact, questioning leadership character. A leader’s behavior reflects what they stand for and what their core nature is, explains Klann. If a leader behaves in positive and constructive ways, he can earn respect and create strong connections between himself and his employees.

So even though leadership on the national level is taking a hit, individual leaders can make a significant difference in their organizations by demonstrating and developing leadership character. Here are three ways to do that:

First, leaders should focus on their behavior
Leadership character is about tangible behavior, Klann explains. It is what leaders say and do – regardless of what inner qualities they may possess or thoughts they may cherish – that determines their reputation and good name. They can learn how to speak and act in ways that reflect qualities such as courage, caring, self-control, optimism and effective communication.

A second way to develop leadership character: Adjust, Don’t Overhaul
Changing behaviors isn’t always easy. However, most people can see when there is an advantage to changing certain behaviors and can take action. Typically, adults change their behavior to gain something positive or to avoid something negative. The key is to go about change in terms of adjusting behavior, rather than expecting instant change.

The third approach: Be consistent
Klann explains that a leader’s reputation is based on his or her behavior over time. When a leader’s pattern of behavior consistently reflects strong character, the result is greater respect, trust, and stronger emotional connections between such leaders and their employees.

Also helpful to keep in mind are what Klann deems the “Five E’s” of character development:

  • E #1 – Example: Leadership by example leverages the natural human tendency to emulate the behavior of individuals held in high esteem. A leader’s behavior sets the standard for the entire organization.
  • E #2 – Education: Find ways to discuss the importance of character, the potential challenges to character, and the short- and long-term implications of a lapse of character.
  • E #3 – Environment: Senior leaders should establish an environment that is open to character development by creating a clear, detailed, practical set of organizational values and by ensuring that everyone in the organization lives those values.
  • E #4 – Experience: Give employees assignments requiring them to make difficult choices, which can help them develop character. These experiences also provide good indications of the character strengths and weaknesses of those who might become the future leaders of the organization.
  • And E #5 – Evaluation: Clear expectations need to be established and communicated. Leaders can then use feedback sessions and performance evaluations to gauge their progress, reviewing specific instances when their character was challenged and either stood fast or cracked.

If people can improve their leadership skills individually, it might just result in better leadership nationally, even globally. Follow the five Es of leadership. There’s simply too much to lose if we don’t lead with character.

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