True Colours

True Colours

Character is an essential element of leadership. Here’s how to develop yours and let it shine

In my experience, most people are good. Walk the halls of any company and you will find committed parents, involved community members and hardworking professionals. How then to explain the fact that on a daily basis many of us behave badly, demonstrating such self-defeating behaviours as pessimism, selfishness and insecurity?

Consider an IT executive named Carl. Carl loves to learn new things and make a difference. He is a huge asset to his organization and gets the hard work done. Unfortunately, many who work with him don't trust him because of his "Lone Ranger" tendencies. While impressed with his ability to deliver, others criticize his motives. They assume, based on his behaviours, that he is concerned only with promoting his career.

Carl's challenge is one of character, and it is one that he must address. Character is essential to leading others and contributing productively over the long term. In fact, research concludes that it's impossible to be an effective leader without strong character.

Character is defined as having high integrity, as exhibited in the following behaviours, according to the Centre for Leadership Solutions and the book The Extraordinary Leader:

  • Making decisions based on what is best for the company versus personal gain
  • Stating opinions honestly
  • Delivering on commitments
  • Taking a stand on tough issues
  • Being approachable and asking for feedback
  • Treating everyone the same
  • Trusting and working collaboratively with others
  • Being emotionally resilient in changing situations

It may seem as if it's easy to evaluate the character of others based on their behaviours, but it isn't. Carl has outstanding character. He bleeds the company colours and treats his staff like his kids. He isn't really concerned about power — he just wants to make a difference, do interesting work and be recognized for his efforts. His integrity is in question because he is hard to get to know and does much of his thinking on his own. He isn't very approachable or skilled at working collaboratively. When he states opinions, he sounds harsh and judgemental.

Carl's not the only one getting a bad rap in the character department. We are predisposed to judge others negatively in the heat of the battle because there is little time to communicate and much to get done. For those who would lead, the challenge is to adopt or emphasize behaviours that allow character to shine through. In my experience, there are three behaviours that, when demonstrated consistently, ensure that a leader's true colours are visible to others.

Break through the negativity. It's easier to question, dissect and disregard than to embrace, enhance and support. Great leaders express excitement about the future and confidence in the abilities of others. I have heard many CIOs talk in one breath about alignment and in the next disparage their business partners. I have also heard CIOs interested in improving internal collaboration within IT gossip about their direct reports with others in their department. If you have a dark side, take it home and share it with your dog.

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