Character: Acting in alignment with universal values
What is it?
Character is the starting point and at the core of leadership. Character is acting in accord with universal values. This includes treating others with respect, appreciation, compassion, and the care we would we would want if we were in the others’ shoes.
We reveal character through our actions not our words. The true test of character happens when we are truly challenged and tempted to cut corners and act in ways that we know deep down are not right. All of us justify and rationalize bad behavior. The leader’s challenge is to hold themself accountable for such lapses.
While we typically think of character as individualistic; this competency can also be applied to groups, networks, and organizations. In these situations we can view character as the set of deeply held and lived values that go beyond utilitarian platitudes aimed at near-term performance. We reveal strong collective character through actions that support life and nurture trust, respect, and mutuality.
Why is it important?
First and foremost strong character is important because acting from strong character is the right thing to do. We all know that the only leaders we wish to follow and the only leaders that inspire us to grow into better leaders ourselves are ones that we trust and hold in high esteem. Character is s essential for realizing the benefits of Cooperative Advantage. It induces trust and mutuality and is the foundational enabler of co-creation and unified action. It helps create an environment where people want to belong and participate and hence it activates high performance and also reduces unwanted turnover.
What happens when Character is missing?
In the worst case, a lack of leadership character leads to situations where to the ends justify the means and people morally disengage (convince themselves that ethical standards do not apply to them in a particular context) and justify or ignore their bad behavior. This is exactly what happened with companies such as Enron and WorldCom. In politics we see that the absence of leadership character plays to peoples fears and spurs their worst impulses. Poor character leads to cultures that are highly political where people look out for themselves first, they game the system, and talk behind each other’s backs. Low trust permeates and people do not authentically confront one another.
Elevating Character through Practice
Refining our character is a practice. We must observe our actions and notice when we grow and when we fall short. Strong character requires that we:
- Are genuinely committed to a set of beliefs that align with universal values;
- Observe our actions and obtain feedback on we impact others;
- Identify where we are on track and where we transgress
- Reveal and heal our protective patterns that lead to repeated transgressions
- Recommit to acting in alignment with our values