In my last blog, I advocated for character in leadership. A good follow up question is, “how much character?” In other words, how do we find leaders who demonstrate moral virtue while acknowledging no one is perfect, leaders make mistakes, and some very flawed people have done some very remarkable things?
A good starting point is the unholy trinity of issues that are the most serious and most common tests of character – money, sex, and power. Leaders must demonstrate self-control in these areas. Without it, a downfall is inevitable. That does not mean a misstep in these areas completely disqualifies them from leadership, but it will at least diminish their impact or taint their legacy. These temptations are so pervasive, wise leaders takes extra precautions to protect themselves and ensure accountability regarding them.
Another significant issue is how a leader handles mistakes – which are inevitable. When a leader takes full responsibility for his/her mistakes, accepts the consequences (legal, financial, or relational), really apologizes for their actions, and makes restitution when required – recovery of leadership stature is possible. For sure, some mistakes and their consequences are so egregious trust is forfeited and leadership roles are permanently lost. But those situations are rare. American history is replete with political, religious, and corporate leaders who bounced back from serious mistakes and made significant leadership contributions.
Finally, the archaic-sounding quality of humility is another significant issue when considering the character of a leader. True leaders hold their position as a stewardship – not an entitlement. They use their influence for the good of others – not personal aggrandizement. Humble leaders recognize their gifts and opportunities as blessings and privileges – increasing their burden for the well-being of others, not proving they are better than others. It’s easier to forgive a humble leader than an arrogant one.
Blogs stir up ideas but books develop them more fully. If you are interested in character in leadership, start the new year with a reading project of my book The Character of Leadership. Beyond just reading, however, start the new year determined to model the character required for leadership in today’s convoluted world.
Photo by Pablo Garcia Saldana