The Character Based Leader

By: Lead Change Group



The Lead Change Group is an association of business leaders, coaches and mentors collectively striving to support the quality of leadership today. Although there may be differences in the detail, all the authors agree on the core message of this book: that character counts in leadership, and there are key elements that shape character. Character-Based Leadership is leading from who you are, rather than from your power or position.

Join us for the next ten minutes or so to find out how you too can contribute to the character-based leadership revolution!

Lesson 1: Character Based Leadership 101

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is the fact that our employees aren’t satisfied with where they or their leaders are. Leadership is disengaged. Consequently, many of the younger generation entering the workforce don’t seek to become leaders.

As an alternative to the norm, character based leadership has three underpinning concepts: Leadership is influence. Influence is given. People give influence based on competence, trust and purpose. Here’s how your staff will look at it:

#1: Competence. Your staff want to know if you, the leader, can take everyone toward the group’s objective.

#2: Trust. They must believe that you, the leader can get them to the objective in a way that doesn’t violate their best interests, but helps them achieve the benefit they expect from joining.

#3: Purpose. They must believe the purpose is worth the effort. They must have an aligned purpose or they won’t give the leader (you) influence or authority over them.

We all face choices that affect other people and organisations. Some of those choices deal with questions of right and wrong. Others are about the willingness to address a problem instead of ignoring it and many choices are simply about speaking up instead of doing nothing.

These choices don’t require positions of power and importance to solve it. They simply require character. You and I can decide that the time has come to make character priority #1. And when we do, we will start to become Character Based leaders.

Lesson 2: Leading from Within

When we show up for work and for our leadership roles, we bring our full self. We bring our principles, our strengths, our pride in our past accomplishments and our desire to lead our teams successfully. We also bring our fears and our weaknesses, along with our insecurities and knowledge of our past failures.

Being a character based leader not only needs a vision of where we are taking our organisation, but also a clear personal vision of self: a vision that clarifies why we are leading that organisation in the first place.

By sharing this vision with our followers and letting our leadership flow from within, our followers can hold us accountable and expect our actions to match our words.

Abraham Lincoln is cited as an example of leadership in a character based way. It was because of who he was, how personally connected he was to his authentic self, how he let this authenticity shine through his leadership, how much he cared for his fellow “common man,” and the vision he was committed to bringing to life.

The foundation of Character-Based Leadership is a connection to our inner selves; an understanding of ‘where we came from’ which keeps us grounded; an inspired personal vision to which we are committed; a set of strong and respectful values which we follow; and an enlightened vision of where we want to lead others.

Lesson 3: Accepting Your Value as a Leader

Firstly, we must be honest and brave enough to affirm that we are actually good at something. We are (hopefully) more experienced, skilled or insightful than others that we will encounter, and they can benefit from our leadership to help them develop and grow.

This is not an ego trip. This is merely a belief in our capabilities. Character-Based Leaders are committed to inspiring others to discover their own strengths. This entails helping others to progress from good to excellent, to turn their strengths into expertise, and then to teach them how do the same for others.

There are a number of alternatives to Character-Based leadership:

  • Leading by Position
  • Leading by Policy
  • Leading by Preference
  • Leading by Participation
  • Leading by Pandemonium
  • Leading by Personality

Unfortunately they all have negative undertones. They all lead based on a weakness in character.

Character-Based leadership is leading though our core strength of character. We lead from our strengths, because it puts us ahead of the problems and the competition we face. It also allows us to use our time genuinely, instead of fumbling our way through the challenges facing us as leaders.

Lesson 4: Head and Heart

A Character-Based Leader uses his head to manage and his heart to lead, and sees the importance of both results and relationships. Employees bring their brains and their feelings with them to work each day, so it’s only natural that the workplace should contain elements that use both.

An authentic head-and-heart leader thinks ‘we’ first and ‘me’ second. He or she understands that the business needs solid management judgement but also needs to support fun and laughter, adventure, unbounded possibility and inventive thinking to lead people to attain their shared vision. When leaders concentrate too much on either task or people, things start to go wrong. Typically, it’s the task-oriented practices that get priority attention. Metrics like cash flow, widgets per hour, budgeted versus actual expenses, and the like are easier to measure... but they have no more importance than the feelings and buy-in of staff.

Achieving both task completion and relationship building requires an inclusive orientation because each outcome is correct. Neither can stand alone for the long term. Both are needed for success. Character-Based leaders focus first on one, then the other, oscillating between the two as the circumstances require. They know when and how to balance.

Lesson 5: Walking the Walk

Character-Based Leadership is about the small actions or reactions that make up our decisions. They build the foundation of our integrity.

Character-Based Leaders strive for consistency between what they say and what they do. They balance their logic with their longing. They listen and observe well because they know they can learn by experiencing the challenges they face.

So how do we develop integrity in everyday leadership?

We need to know where we stand. There is simply no way of being true to ourselves if we don’t know who we are. Even if we strive to remain honest, it will be difficult to do so when we are unaware of ourselves.

We need to respect our principles. Anything we say or do that is counter to our principles is not worth it. No matter who’s asking, nothing will repay us for straying from our principles.

We meet to find our way back. The most common mistake for leaders is to think they are always right. When leaders become strong, the people around them tend to either believe the leader must be right or just pretend they believe it. We need to be humble and respect our failings.

As a leader, the consistency with which we walk our talk is the basis on which others will choose whether to follow our lead.

To be accountable is to be willing to make a promise to another with a commitment to honoring that promise. Accountability is often discussed in the context of managing work and activities but it’s actually about managing our relationship with integrity.

Accountability includes facing up to failure. Accountability is acknowledging when we fail to deliver in any aspect of the promise we made and taking personal responsibility for dealing with the consequences in terms of our relationship and in terms of the breakdown that may have been caused for others.

Lesson 6: Humility and Respect

Nothing derails a leader, a business initiative or a relationship faster than an overinflated ego, yet we often go to work without a thought for the actual cost of arrogance.

Humility is the ability to recognise that we are always better together. As we become more aware of those around us, our own needs actually begin to overlap with others’ in a united effort toward mutual success. Humility is grown through the following actions:

  • Treating others better than we treat ourselves.
  • Serving others without expecting a return.
  • Acknowledging weaknesses and embracing strengths.
  • Thanking others for support and encouragement.
  • Letting others perform while we observe and encourage.

Respect is equally important. When we respect others, we positively appreciate them, and that causes us to act in their best interests.

Character-Based Leaders don’t want to win at the expense of others. They look for ways where everyone can win.

Respect is the proper outcome of humility. Too much humility, and we under-appreciate ourselves and over-respect others. Too little humility and we under-appreciate others and over-respect ourselves. Respect is the key to bringing life to a team and to giving everyone in the organisation an opportunity to lead in some way. If we claim we need more leaders, but fail to give people room to lead, we’re fooling ourselves.

Lesson 7: Measuring Up.

So, as a leader, how do we know if we make the trustworthiness grade? Employees use a variety of yardsticks to determine a leader’s trustworthiness.

These yardsticks fall into one of three broad categories: Ethics, Inter-personality and Work Focus.

The Ethics yardstick evaluates a leader’s moral compass: do they follow an appropriate ethical code? Do they seem honest? Does the leader treat people with respect, act with accountability, and avoid blaming others?

The Interpersonal yardstick comes from the chemistry that people feel when interacting with their leaders. It’s based largely on a leader’s interpersonal style, the blend of individual personality traits and daily interactions that make up the way they engage with others in the organisation.

 The third yardstick, Work Focus, is based on what a leader focuses on to get things done at work. Humans tend to have a natural preference that gravitates toward either a focus on “getting things done” (task) or on “interacting with and relating to others” (people). Neither focus is the “correct” one; both are valid viewpoints. A truly skilled leader will also help team members appreciate different approaches by encouraging opposites to work together and treat one another as sounding boards.

How do you measure up?

In summary, Character-Based Leadership is not about leadership with a capital ‘L’. It’s about the genuine, consistent, appreciative and humble way you interact with others. It’s about engagement, trust and above all….character. Lead on to success!