Somewhere…someplace…someone is stepping down from a leadership position.
It’s not because they didn’t do their job right. It’s not because they went over budget. It’s not even because the majority of people no longer followed their leadership anymore. It’s something else.
There is a growing percentage of leaders who have to step away from leading others because they failed to lead themselves well first. They had all of the right capabilities but they lacked the character to sustain their leadership.
The truth is, you can be a leader with poor character…just not for very long.
In our quest to find authentic leaders, we want to follow someone who is the person they claim to be (both in public and in private). We not only want a leader with good character, we want someone with consistently good character.
In my work with student leaders, I provide a lot of space for students to make mistakes and try new ideas. Each year, students enter into their positions with a variety of strategies to make things better (depending on how they view better). For the most part, they are never required to step down because a strategy or idea failed. In fact, these provide some of the best learning moments in a student’s leadership experience.
But there’s not as much room for error, mistakes, or failure when it comes to a student leader’s character. Adding up the numbers incorrectly is different than lying about the numbers. Giving people bad directions to an event is different than allowing one’s life to head in a bad direction.
At the beginning of each student leadership year, I challenge the students in my care to start strong and to finish strong. Starting strong is easy and depends on your excitement level. Finishing strong is a lot harder and depends on the strength of your character.
To keep your character consistent throughout your leadership experience, I encourage you to develop these three insights into your life.
1. Focus on your own character before you focus on the character of others.
It is easy to see character flaws in others. But it’s hard to see them in ourselves. This is because we tend to be black-and-white when judging the decisions of others and rationalize the decisions we make. It’s so easy to make a promise to be a certain kind of person. What’s difficult is keeping that promise when it feels easier to let it slide (just this once). The minute a leader begins to think, I’m not as bad as him (or her!) that leader’s character is in danger.
2. Grow a bigger heart and not simply a better filter.
From an early age, each of us has learned how to manage our behavior. We develop the ability to know what is appropriate behavior in a variety of situations. We compartmentalize our lives – acting one way at school and another way at home or with friends. We know what words we can use when we’re at work and which words we shouldn’t use at church. We are behavior modification experts, relying on our filter to keep us appropriate wherever we’re at.
Character isn’t formed through a maturing filter as much as it’s developed from an authentic heart. We often define good character as the ability to be the same person in both public and private. But I would expand that to include all of the different environments we are a part of in our public and private worlds. If you operate from a pure heart in all areas of your life then you can spend more energy on meeting the needs of other instead of managing your appearance in front of others.
3. Work on the parts you see, not just the parts others see.
I think we all know where our character is most susceptible to damage. If you don’t, then you’ve probably filled your life with just enough noise that you are unable to hear the inner voice inside that speaks who you really are. Some call it a conscience, others call it a moral compass. For me, it’s the voice of God’s Spirit that convicts and gently prods me in the right direction.
The thing is, it takes quiet, intentional reflection to tap into it. That’s why some leaders are afraid of the silence.
When a person’s true character comes to light, it typically reveals a pattern of poor decisions that have been made over a period of time. It gets to the point where our poor character becomes too obvious not to notice. At some point, a leader starts to work more on covering up the result of bad character than spending the necessary time working on developing good character. The leader is fooled into thinking that character doesn’t matter…until it does.
It is your responsibility to develop your own character. No one can do it for you. But others can help you. Perhaps the very first thing a leader can do to protect him or herself from the devastation that is caused by poor character choices is to find some people to get honest with. I would encourage you to find a few people who meet the following two requirements:
1. You trust them.
2. They want what’s best for you.
It’s typically our private lives that mess up our public ones. Marie Beyle (1783-1842) stated, “One can acquire everything in solitude – except character.” Don’t let the secrets of your character derail the success of your leadership. Let’s do the work necessary to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Interested in discovering simple and practical ways to develop your character consistently? Download my latest book, Leadership Starts With You. This book will assist you in developing your own self-leadership skills. It’s available for both the Kindle and the Nook. Visit leadershipstartswithyou.com to take the next step in leading yourself well.