Leadership Failures Are Usually Character Failures

Leadership is a blend of competence and character.

BG (Retired) Jim Anderson, my father, taught me that. In 41 years in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam, he saw a lot of great leaders and a lot of leadership failures that formed his philosophy.

Leadership Philosophy

At work, in the news and in the history books, failures in leadership are almost never a result of failures in competence. They are failures in character. Here is a short list of examples I’ve seen and the character trait that was exposed in those failures:

  • Bernie Madoff lied to his clients and stole millions. He lacked integrity not competence in handling money. He is doing time.
  • A sales manager I know who badgered sales people to sell more so “I can win this year’s award trip.” He was selfish not incompetent. His people were disgruntled and low performers. He was fired.
  • Leaders at Penn State were unwilling to speak out or act when the allegations of abuse were first reported. That is cowardice not the inability to run an athletic department. That story isn’t finished.

So what is character?


  • Begins with our thoughts.
  • Our thoughts become our words.
  • Our words lead to our actions.
  • Our actions become habits.
  • Our habits determine our character.

The Bottom Line:

I believe our character is our habitual way of operating. My habits, the good, the bad and the ugly ones paint a pretty clear picture of my character.

So how can I become a leader of character? I am going to unpack that more on my 7/4/12 post.  Download my free white paper on leadership here.

Happy 4th of July.  God Bless America and our troops who fight for our way of life.


What topics on character do you want me to spend more time unpacking?


4 Responses to “Leadership Failures Are Usually Character Failures”

  1. Julie Dahl July 2, 2012 at 9:37 am #


    I always love reading about Leadership! These fundamentals truly are the foundations we build out lives upon whether we realize it or not. Looks like your site is full of solid life principles and I look forward to reading more.

    Often times many people think that they only need be concerned about these issues if they plan on starting their own business or planning on making a leap into management . . . not true. Everything we do . . . money we spend, investments we make and perhaps our most precious commodity ‘the use of our time’ should be made using the core principles you discussed.

    Keep up the great work. Prayers for a successful week as you dive into writing your first book.

    God Bless,

    • Dave Anderson July 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks Julie. You are right. Everything that makes us good leaders can make us good human beings as well.

      I believe we are all called to lead. Whether we have a title or not we must be willing to step forward and lead our families, our communities or wherever a need arises.

      The book outline is done. Now it is time to really write it!

  2. Robert April 17, 2015 at 11:19 pm #

    Dave I am currently submitting a research proposal on implementing a leadership development program when I came across your site. It is refreshing to read your fathers position(which I totally agree with) after serving multiple tours. It would be a pleasure to electronically converse with him in slightly greater detail on the blend of competence and character subject.

    Keep up the good work,


    • Dave Anderson April 20, 2015 at 1:16 pm #


      Please send me an email (dave@alslead.com) and I will forward it to him so you can begin communicating.

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