Character MATTERS

Leadership Character … yes, it matters. 

It’s about integrity, honesty, transparency, beliefs, motives … it’s about being authentic, real, genuine … it’s about TRUST.  Being trustworthy.

As a leader [any lead role] your character is always on show; even more so, when in a public leadership role. Double that again, when in one of the most powerful lead roles in our country. Add to that the continual power-playing of political parties and masses of meddling media; your character ‘show time’ is basically 24/7.  That might not be fair, but it’s the reality of such roles.

Now, before any mud-slinging starts, let me be clear about my intentions in writing this article. I have no interest or links to any media agencies. I have no personal or political agenda, nor do I follow any political party. I vote for leadership attributes and best policies; have done for years. My passion is all about leadership.

I’m on a mission to develop more dynamic, authentic, genuine, ethical leaders; so of course, I am continually researching and observing real examples of what works and what doesn’t. As a leadership mentor and emotional intelligence coach, there is robust discussion in my circles on these matters.  

So, like millions of other Australian voters, I’ve been watching a recent situation unfold within leadership ranks of our highest office; but my focus is not on blame or victimising or finger-pointing. I really don’t care who bonks who [providing both parties are consenting adults and no party exerts imbalanced power over the other], and frankly; banning the parliamentary office bonk is a small ‘s’ solution to what is a more fundamental issue – one of a leader’s character traits.

Characteristics of leaders always makes for interesting discussion as we each hold differing values and tolerance levels.  No one expects a leader to be perfect, without blemish, or never having made a mistake.  There are no ‘clean-skins’ out there, especially in the political arena. Things happen. Long hours, stressful jobs, unexpected problems, marriage break ups. Many of us have been through similar stuff. I’ve been there. I get that.

However, when the proverbial crap hits the leader’s ceiling fan, it’s not so much WHAT happened that potentially destroys one’s character; it’s more impacted by HOW the leader responds. HOW they manage their emotions? HOW responsible and willing they are to fix the issues? HOW open and honest they are?  HOW they intend to resolve the problem? Those are the leadership character traits I look for:

  • Do they try to hide it?  The recently quoted ‘accepted policy’ phrase comes to mind: ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.
  • Do they try to deny it? Or brush it off as ‘nothing to do with my leadership role?’
  • Do they make good judgement calls when making perpetuating decisions under the spot-light pressure?
  • Do they focus on self-preservation and holding on to positional power, over greater good thinking?

From personal experience in the leadership arena, the fact is: when a leader's intent is unclear or unspoken, their judgement is questionable, and their focus is on self-preservation at all costs [eg: ‘I’m not going anywhere’]; it is these response choices that will ultimately negatively impact on the leader’s character. The trust levels of colleagues and followers spirals in a downward direction very quickly.

In our leadership development workshops – we emphasise that building and maintaining TRUST is the key.  Our 3 'Cs' formula for a leader to build TRUST is:

Character + Competence + Consistency = TRUST

Character is #1 for good reason. The foundation underpinning HOW a leader uses their skills [competencies] and what drives them to commit to doing what they do, consistently. Character includes things like intent - [care factor, transparency, openness] ...and integrity - [honesty, fairness, genuineness] ... and influence - [drivers, motivators, behaviours]. These are core character traits, driven by personal values.

I’m a firm believer that successful, authentic leaders bring their whole self into the role; leading from deeply held core beliefs. I don’t subscribe to the notion that your character traits can be switched on and off, depending on the situation [eg: work life versus home life]. You are one person.

Leadership is not a part-time role or position; it’s a deeply entrenched belief system, mindset, and set of behaviours that make up our observable character.

Sure, as I’ve already said, we all make mistakes at times that may seem ‘out of character’, but it’s our core character traits that must then kick in to raise up, think and act as a leader, take responsibility, have the courage to name the issue, resolve it, and learn from it.

Leadership thinking is fuelled by these honourable character traits. A level of thinking that is so much broader and higher than one leader’s position or personal career aspirations. Leadership is all about others; particularly understanding the situational impact on those close to us [family, friends and close colleagues], the impact on our team and organisation [or political party], and importantly, what’s best for the greater good [our communities, country and globally].

To be fair, in the last few days it was a relief to see this broader and higher-level leadership thinking finally kicking in, to address an increasingly messy parliamentary situation.  Decisions needed to be made that ultimately took into consideration, what’s best for the majority of those impacted [individuals and organisation], and for the greater good [our country].

Sad that it took so long and did so much damage. I can’t help thinking it could have been handled so much better had this high-level leader in question, found the courage early on, to have open and honest conversations with those he was asking to trust his leadership and vote for him in the recent bi-election. Many would have accepted the personal family issues [that’s a common situation], but it’s harder to accept perceived deception, poor judgement, questionable motives, and a growing concern around character traits.

A successful leader showcases their character by role-modelling the behaviour that inspires confidence in them as a leader, and trust from those they serve. 

Without trust, there are no followers. No followers - not a leader.

Actions speak louder than words.  But silence, inaction or deliberate avoidance of the truth, is never going to end well.

Character absolutely matters.

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