Leaders are critical to any organisation. Mistakes made at the leadership level impact everyone. It has been said that a leader has three sources of influence i.e. authority of office, knowledge and character. Of the three sources, character has the greatest significance and impact. Character has been defined as who you are and what you st and for – walking the talk.
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America (USA), once said: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” We can therefore safely say that destiny is synonymous with one’s character. Successful leaders demonstrate by deeds and words, a strength of character. Destiny doesn’t come by chance, a person’s character today will determine where they end up tomorrow. If where he is going is very important, he will do all he can to makes character changes to achieve their destiny. Mark Batterson said, “You are only one defining decision away from a totally different life” meaning there is absolutely nothing a person cannot change but he/she have to make the decision to change.
Sadly, we live in a time where for example, the world is awash with stories of former leaders of nations and major corporations have been sent to jail on corruption charges. The cry for leaders of integrity is growing louder and louder. However, this seems to be a dilemma that human kind has faced since time immemorial. It is said that Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, in his time found that honest was very rare that he lighted a c andle in the daytime and went around looking for an honest man. In addition, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian said he didn’t expect to meet three honest men in a century. The story of the Great Wall of China also comes to mind. Built in the 3rd Century B.C., with the average height of 6 to 7 meters and the highest point of 14 meters, the wall was built to prevent invasions from their enemies. However, history reveals that during the first 100 years of its existence, the Chinese were invaded three times and every time, their enemies bribed the guards and came through the doors. The Chinese had built the wall, but never thought of building the character of the wall-guards. The building of human character comes before building of anything else. Character is not optional; character matters. The greatest scam in life is leadership without character. Leadership and sales guru, Zig Ziglar said it better that “The most influential persuasion tool in your arsenal is your integrity.”
The development of character is at the heart of our development as leaders. The International Leadership Institute outlined six disciplines necessary for raising leaders of character and integrity:
- Self-Leadership. Self-preservation is natural, integrity is not. When both are in conflict, we need the discipline to lead ourselves to choose integrity.
- Commitment (to integrity itself). This is a matter of waking up every morning and saying to ourselves, “I will be a person of integrity today.”
- Vigilance. We live in a world that bombards us with opportunities to lie, cheat, and compromise our integrity at every turn. There is a lot of wisdom in the saying, “Watch your life and principles closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Integrity (or lack of it) influences leadership.
- Accountability. Self-leadership, and even self-control, are not enough because ultimately, integrity is maintained through outside control. The only secure way is to be accountable to trusted others.
- Vulnerability. This is the “sister” of accountability. I will always have the power to set the limits of accountability. That is why it takes a willingness to open myself up to be accountable. Brene Brown says vulnerability builds trust and elevates performance. She explains we all struggle with things but sharing them is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually an incredibly powerful way to build trust. Vulnerability is also critically important to performance. If you don’t have the skill or aren’t putting in the effort you’re only going to be able to perform to a certain level. But once you get to that level it’s actually vulnerability that takes you higher. A great example of this was seen in basketball. In the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan drew the defense and passed to Steve Kerr so he could take the winning shot. It took a huge amount of vulnerability for him to put his reputation and the outcome of the game in somebody else’s h ands but he did it and they won. As a leader, vulnerability affects the way I think and lead – I have to be willing to be vulnerable to create trust in our workplace. While vulnerability is important for everyone, it’s critically important for CEOs and senior leaders. It can be quite lonely when you’re one of the only people in your organization struggling with certain situations, but sometimes you have to be vulnerable and open about it. Being vulnerable creates a space for leaders to let others into their head. If you’re having a difficult meeting and you’re not on the same page, it’s ok to step back and say “I’m in a bad mood and can’t cope with this right now, can we try it again tomorrow.” That’s the sort of conversation that actually doesn’t often happen in organizations, but by showing people that you can be emotionally vulnerable gives others the permission to be vulnerable too. As a leader, it’s important to remember that your people usually know if something is not working. They just want to know whether you have the courage to tell them. By stepping up and being vulnerable you create a space that will allow your organization to get to the next level.
- Focus. These are five letters that define extraordinary leaders and everything they do. In 2018, the world honoured Evangelist Billy Graham on the occasion of his passing as a man of character and integrity. He finished well in life and left a legacy which will remain for generations to come. However, it is important to remember that this legacy today is based on decisions Mr. Graham made several decades ago and the price he paid to be a man of integrity for nearly a century.
What price are you paying today to ensure you keep your integrity, extend your influence, and finish well? John Maxwell says, “Crisis doesn’t make character, but it certainly does reveal it. Adversity is a crossroads that makes a person choose one of two paths: character or compromise. Every time he chooses character, he becomes stronger, even if that choice bring negative consequences”.