Leadership Is First Character

Much of what is described as leadership development these days is the teaching of skills – communicate better, coach people better, motivate better, provide feedback better, etc. Sometimes what is billed as a leadership program is simply teaching basic, functional business skills. Maybe it goes as deep as developing some emotional intelligence capabilities. These are all well and good, but they have limited impact on a person’s true ability to lead.

Leadership is simply defined as influence. The right to influence effectively is a right given by those that we seek to lead. They give that right to influence or lead to a person who has first earned their trust and respect. Trust and respect is not a result of demonstrated skills. Rather, trust and respect are a result of the demonstration of strong, positive character.

“By themselves, character and integrity do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else.” – Peter Drucker

Leadership ability is a combination of character and competency, but character must be the foundation upon which leadership is built. However, it is more difficult to assess character. Competencies can be easily discussed and evaluated. They tend to be at the surface and on display. Character is below the surface; it is the virtues, values, and beliefs that drive the thoughts and actions of a person. Therefore, character must be experienced rather than measured. But it is the quality of a person’s character that provides the ability to build a relationship of leadership for the long term.

Because competency is more visible at the surface and character lies beneath the surface, many organizations make the mistake of hiring based on competencies when they are seeking to fill a leadership position. Time then reveals whether the choice was good or bad as character is discovered. Rather, it is much preferable to hire for character. Skills are easily taught. Character is not quickly taught. Character, instead, must be molded over time with an intentional effort of growth and development.

Do you have the character of an effective leader? What are you doing to further develop your character?

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