Leadership for Life – Character

By on January 31, 2013
The Character of a Great Leader

Our Leadership experts will be sharing tips and insights for everyone, at any station in life, at both home and work. Leadership for Life – the skills you embrace represent who you really are at all times.

When someone goes through a harrowing experience or comes through a situation that is problematic in some way, there’s always someone else around who will say, “It builds character.” Some years ago I used that same expression to a colleague who overcame a particularly difficult challenge at work. My boss at the time overheard my remark, and said to me, “Barry, that kind of experience doesn’t actually build character. Most of the time, it reveals character.”

So what is character? In the past, I’d look it up in the nearest Webster’s, but being a 21st century guy, I looked it up on Dictionary.com. This is what I found:

Char’•ac•ter

noun

  1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
  2. one such feature or trait; characteristic.
  3. moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character.
  4. qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity: It takes character to face up to a bully.
  5. reputation: a stain on one’s character.

A Google search of leadership qualities almost always includes some mention of character among the most important leadership functions. A true leader (as opposed to a dictator) is a person of character – honest, inspiring, trustworthy, courageous, competent, focused, discerning, etc. Other elements of true leadership include generosity, initiative, passion, empathy, discipline, and vision – among a myriad of qualities attributed to great leaders.

So what does it all boil down to? Great leaders are concerned about people first, tasks second. Great leaders know that they can accomplish almost nothing by themselves, but with the contributions of others can accomplish virtually anything they set their minds to. Great leaders also know how to inspire others to make those contributions and to reward the contributors accordingly.

The character of a great leader is revealed through his/her interactions with people. Even when a leader makes a mistake, character will be revealed through the way that mistake is handled. When it comes to character, we know it when we see it. As legendary coach John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

As for me, people have said for years that I’m a character. If you want to know what kind, comment below or send me an email: bschapiro@stlcc.edu.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

One Comment

  1. Kathie Chambers

    February 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Barry, Very good article and you make the point well – “The character of a great leader is revealed through his/her interactions with people. Even when a leader makes a mistake, character will be revealed through the way that mistake is handled.” Great food for thought since we all make mistakes!

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