Character in Leadership

“What you do in secret will always show up in public”

By Njeri Muchunu

The question of leadership and character assumes that leadership is a role because it is roles that imply responsibilities. Roles like father, mother, teacher, lighthouse keeper, captain, etc all have certain responsibilities. But if leadership isn’t a role but an act or impact like influence, then character is part of the meaning of leadership. Lead with your life and your life is the weight of your words.

A failure in character can happen to anyone, in any vocation or stratum of life.

A person of character does not live on what is popular; they live on what is principle. That is why it is difficult for politicians to have character because politics is based on popularity which means you will compromise your principles to protect your popularity.

You may ask then, what is character? I define character as simply that which is unchanging. Are you the same person all the time? Are you consistent, are you predictable? Leadership comes more from who you are on the inside than from what you do on the outside. Too many leaders start strong but then fail or self-destruct because of defects in their moral compass. As a result, they lose much, or all, they have worked for.

How many courses or workshops do you see offered on the topic of character formation and the establishment of strong values; on how to live according to one’s conscience, not compromising one’s standards? Not many. This vital aspect of leadership is being overlooked; to our own detriment. Moral deficits frequently lead people to negative or ruinous consequences such as missing out on promotions and advancements, being fired from your job, losing your life savings, betraying your families, surrendering your lifelong dreams, and going to prison. A leader must know how to establish a solid foundation for living that will sustain him or her and keep him or her on the right path in times of uncertainty, temptation, and crisis.

Good character is like a personal security system for your life.

We must immediately begin to promote its restoration. Many leaders today are attempting, unsuccessfully, to separate the ethics of their personal lives from the responsibilities of their public lives. That approach might seem legitimate on face value. Yet, below the surface is this crucial reality: Leadership is not just a role one plays; it is a life one leads.

No matter what type of leader you are or how widespread your influence, you face personal temptations, challenges, and stresses. Only a foundation of character will sustain you and your leadership, be it a financial, political, educational, religious, medical, corporate, scientific, artistic, and so forth, your leadership rests on your character.

Character is the most powerful force a leader can possess because it protects his life, his leadership, and his legacy—it manifests who he is and shapes who he will become. Without character, every other aspect of leadership is at risk. Character Protects a Leader’s Inner Life, establishes a leader’s integrity and enables his growth as a person of ethics and values.
Leadership training and development must start with the inner life of the leader before it can move on to the principles and process of leadership.

I have concluded that the greatest obstacle to a leader’s success is a deficit of character. If I could teach a leader one thing that I believe would preserve his leadership, and even his very life, it would be the priority of character—internal values and principles that one is committed to and that manifest in one’s life as ethical conduct.

Whenever we fail to pay attention to issues of character, we will experience some kind of loss. The fallen leaders whom we know personally or read about in the headlines are warnings to us. We must recognize that every decision we make adds a sentence to our life story. Will the complete story of your life and leadership add up to something positive and honorable? There is only one way to ensure this outcome—through the intentional development of character.

The author is a leadership curator. Contact Njeri Muchunu

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