In our series on leadership attributes, we now look at character. British Pastor Charles Spurgeon said that a godly character is the best tombstone. But what exactly is character, or more specifically good character? It may be one of those attributes that are hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.
Many years ago, one of my supervisors and I were interviewing candidates for an entry level position in our organization. The individual selected for the position would be working on the second or third shift, essentially unsupervised. A person of good character was critical in this position. One of our interview questions was “What does character mean? What does it mean to say that someone has good character”? Although each candidate tried, we never did get a satisfactory answer to our questions about character. We then told the interviewees that a definition that we had heard that we liked was:
Character is doing the right thing when nobody is watching
A dictionary definition that may come closest to what I am talking about here is “moral excellence”.
In a Sunday School class on leadership that I taught at our church not long ago, we discussed the character vs. competency question. Of course, given a choice, we would like our leaders to have both character and competence. We want our leaders to do the right thing in all circumstances, but we also want them to be competent in their jobs. If a leader is not competent, they will quickly lose the respect of their team members, and frankly won’t be in a leadership position very long. But who wants to work with a leader that is competent, but lacks character?
Over the past twenty years, I’ve greatly benefited from the wisdom of leadership expert John Maxwell. He writes that how a leader deals with the circumstances of life tells you many things about his character. Adversity is a crossroads that makes a person choose one of two paths: character or compromise. Every time they choose character, they become stronger, even if that choice brings negative consequences. Maxwell tells us that you can never separate a leader’s character from his actions. He states that talent is a gift, but character is a choice, and that you cannot rise above the limitations of your character.
Leaders who have character:
- Are honest
- Have integrity
- Are trustworthy
- Have the respect of those they work with
- Have a good reputation
- Have influence
- Have the support of their team members
- Do what they say they will do
- Have alignment between who they say they are and how people experience them
- Demonstrate humility
These are just a few of the traits of a leader who have character. Are you working with a leader with character? More importantly, are you a leader with character?