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.
I started this website with this post. I have learned a lot since then. Thank you for joining me and contributing. Every time you comment on a blog, you make me better. Thank you for that!
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.
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 2/29/12 post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on character or your stories about great leaders of character you have encountered. Share them here.