You worked hard in school, studying for exams and writing papers, and now you have your degree. You have put a lot of effort into finding work, writing your resume and doing many interviews, and now you have a good job. You went through rigorous training, learning the ins and outs of your work, and now you have the necessary experience to succeed. You have all the skills and competencies to be a success and accomplish all you have dreamed about. But there is still a key ingredient to thriving long-term that you may have missed: character.
In our last blog, we noted that character makes a great leader, and yet it is my experience that we focus significantly more in preparation on our skills and competencies to the neglect of our character. Years of hard work can be lost with a poor decision and many capable leaders have lost their influence because of an absence of character. For example, Bill Clinton made poor character choices while in office and saw a successful presidency waste its final two years. To be sure, many leaders still maintain power and a position despite a lack of character, but I would argue that one’s leadership capacity is limited when character is neglected as staff, team, and employees will struggle to trust, follow, and work for you. Here are a few things to begin to ask yourself as you think about shaping the necessary character to lead others.
- Do people like me? Sure, you may have a position of authority that demands the respect of others. But a position doesn’t necessarily equal influence. Your staff or team may have to work for you, but if they don’t like you, they won’t stay. Leadership means making hard decisions that won’t always be popular. But if people like you, they will be more willing to accept those difficult decisions. Are you friendly? Do you respect others? Or are you condescending to others and often get angry with your staff? You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but you don’t have to be a jerk either.
- Do others trust me? Leading a company or an organization will inevitably require going through challenging and uncertain times. The degree people trust you will be the degree they are willing to follow you through these circumstances. Do you lie on a regular basis? Do you keep your promises? A culture of distrust makes it impossible to have a sense of unity on any team.
- Do I hide things? Who are you when no one’s looking? Does your public life match your private life? Do you have secrets you don’t want others to know? This one is hard because we all have our flaws and shortcomings. Are we transparent and open, so that those who know us best also like and trust us?
- Do I receive accountability? You allowed others to examine your progress as you went through school, applied for jobs, and worked to gain experience. Teachers and bosses have checked to ensure you have the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies to succeed. But is anyone checking your character? Are you willing to receive help and if necessary, correction? Does anyone have authority over you? Or do you surround yourself with “yes men?” Be willing to allow others to watch over your character and be honest with you when needed.
A lack of character ruins careers, relationships, and lives. You have worked hard and are working hard to get to be able to succeed. Don’t throw it all away with poor decisions. Be willing to examine yourself and allow others to do as well, and expand your influence as you lead with honesty, integrity, and transparency.