Character and Traits in Leadership
Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. — Warren Bennis, Ph.D. On Becoming a Leader Building Excellence
Leaders do not command excellence, they build excellence. Excellence is “being all you can be” within the bounds of doing what is right for your organization. To reach excellence you must first be a leader of good character. You must do everything you are supposed to do. Organizations will not achieve excellence by figuring out where it wants to go, then having leaders do whatever they have to in order to get the job done, and then hope their leaders acted with good character. This type of thinking is backwards. Pursuing excellence should not be confused with accomplishing a job or task. When you do planning, you do it by backwards planning. But you do not achieve excellence by backwards planning. Excellence starts with leaders of good and strong character who engage in the entire process of leadership. And the first process is being a person of honorable character. Character develops over time. Many think that much of a person's character is formed early in life. However, we do not know exactly how much or how early character develops. But, it is safe to claim that character does not change quickly. A person's observable behavior is an indication of her character. This behavior can be strong or weak, good or bad. A person with strong character shows drive, energy, determination, self-discipline, willpower, and nerve. She sees what she wants and goes after it. She attracts followers. On the other hand, a person with weak character shows none of these traits. She does not know what she wants. Her traits are disorganized, she vacillates and is inconsistent. She will attract no followers. A strong person can be good or bad. A gang leader is an example of a strong person with a bad character, while an outstanding community leader is one with both strong and good characteristics. An organization needs leaders with both strong and good characteristics, people who will guide them to the future and show that they can be trusted. Courage — not complacency — is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship. — John F. Kennedy To be an effective leader, your followers must have trust in you and they need to be sold on your vision. Korn-Ferry International, an executive search company, performed a survey on what organizations want from their leaders. The respondents said they wanted people who were bothethical and who convey a strong vision of the future. In any organization, a leader's actions set the pace. This behavior wins trust, loyalty, and ensures the organization's continued vitality. One of the ways to build trust is to display a good sense of character composed of beliefs, values, skills, and traits (U.S. Army Handbook, 1973): Beliefs are what we hold dear to us and are rooted deeply within us. They could be assumptions or convictions that you hold true regarding people, concepts, or things. They could be the beliefs about life, death, religion, what is good, what is bad, what is human nature, etc. Values are attitudes about the worth of people, concepts, or things. For example, you might value a good car, home, friendship, personal comfort, or relatives. Values are important as they influence a person's behavior to weigh the importance of alternatives. For example, you might value friends more than privacy, while others might be the opposite. Skills are the knowledge and abilities that a person gains throughout life. The ability to learn a new skill varies with each individual. Some skills come almost naturally, while others come only by complete devotion to study and practice. Traits are distinguishing qualities or characteristics of a person, while character is the sum total of these traits. There are hundreds of personality traits, far too many to be discussed here. Instead, we will focus on a few that are crucial for a leader. The more...
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