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The Center for Creative Leadership’s Gene Klann wants to get people talking about character. Author of the book, Building Character: Strengthening the Heart of Good Leadership, Klann believes that character is at the core of who we are, and he thinks we can hold ourselves to higher standards as leaders in today’s workplace.

As a professional, Klann is in the business of leadership development. His work at CCL is based on the view that people can learn, grow and change. To have ethical organizations, we need to develop and encourage strong character in others and ourselves. It doesn’t come easy — it takes discipline — but we owe it to ourselves to be the best leaders we can be.

But how do we do that? Klann suggests asking yourself some pretty tough questions. What values are driving your behavior? What values have you ignored or left behind? If you aren’t honest about your values and your behavior, your character development efforts will stay at a surface level.

But isn’t character a personal, private issue? Not when your decisions affect others, Klann argues. He says: “Look around us. We have executives who embezzle, manipulate and lie — and think nothing of it. Political leaders make mistakes and don’t take responsibility. We have adults shooting children in schools. What kind of value system drives these behaviors? Why are we accepting it?”

Along those lines, Klann contends that even though politicians, advisors, and pundits talk about character and values, there really aren’t that many leaders who genuinely value character and its attributes such as courage, caring, and self-control. He thinks that we have replaced the substance of character with a shorthand that people use for perceived political gain.

It’s true that leaders and organizations are constantly influencing their employees. We write mission statements and make pronouncements about company values. We show our values in what we say and what we do. Klann recommends that we take this reality seriously and make conscious decisions about what kind of leaders we want to be and what kind of organizations we want to be part of.

In his book, Klann describes many figures that, in his opinion, stand out as having demonstrated good leadership character. Among those include Barbara Bush, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz. These leaders, and many others like them, are consistent in their behaviors. They set an outstanding personal example, have a clear notion of right and wrong, stand up for what they believe, and are noted to have a sincere interest and genuine concern for others. Consider Howard Shultz at Starbucks. His organization spends more on employee benefits than on coffee.

Getting to the heart of good leadership starts with holding yourself accountable for your behaviors and the decisions that you make. If you set the example, your people will have an easier time following.

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