The current public discourse makes me wonder whether or not character still matters. You know—that stuff people learn at church, the Boy Scouts, or in the armed forces. Do we still place value on these personal attributes in a way that drives our actions and life choices? Or, are they touching, but largely irrelevant, like Casablanca (a movie which half the people reading this article may not even recognize)?
Tino Martella and Marty Gupta, CEO and VP of Strategy at the Turknett Leadership Group, double down on the importance of leadership character in this week’s CEO Exclusive show. They argue that “good” character in business leaders leads to trust and engagement with employees and other stakeholders. This idea echoes the conscious leadership dimension of Conscious Capitalism that we’ve discussed so often on the show, but before we sermonize on why it’s so important, what is “good” character anyway?
Turknett has developed a model for the kind of character that they believe drives effective leadership. In this model, they describe the attributes they endeavor to help their clients develop over time. In this week’s article, we discuss the model and how these attributes are necessary but not sufficient for the character to which many of us aspire.
Integrity–Character is grounded in integrity. Leaders must be honest, credible and completely trustworthy. A person with integrity doesn’t twist facts for personal advantage, is willing to stand up for what is right, keeps all promises, and can be counted on to always tell the truth. A person with integrity makes sound decisions, especially when faced with moments of indecision, temptation and conflict. Without integrity, no leader can be successful.
Respect– Respect helps create a culture of partnership and teamwork. Leaders who demonstrate respect show an unconditional high regard for others, acknowledging their values and people, regardless of their behaviors.
- Empathy– Leaders earn trust by relating to everyone in the organization with understanding. Empathetic leaders create strong bonds and are seen as less political.
- Lack of Blame– Good leaders reflect honestly on their own behavior and can admit their mistakes. Rather than spending time assigning blame, leaders spend time fixing problems.
- Emotional Mastery– More than 2000 years ago, Epictetus said, “It is not the facts and events that upset man but the view he takes of them.” Leaders who have developed emotional mastery recognize that.
- Humility– Leaders with humility shun pompous and arrogant behavior. They realize that we are all fallible – a combination of strengths and weaknesses.
Responsibility– Great leaders accept full responsibility for personal success and for the success of projects, teams, and the entire organization.
- Self-confidence– Self-confident leaders recognize the value of building that same self-confidence in others throughout their organizations and aren’t threatened by confident followers.
- Accountability– Leaders who are accountable do what needs to be done, no matter where in the organization they have to go. They hold themselves 100% accountable for making relationships work.
- Focus on the whole– Leaders who focus on the big picture think in terms of what’s good for the entire organization, not in terms of what’s good for their own team or department.
- Courage– Leaders with courage assert themselves and take risks. They ask forgiveness rather than permission and try even though they might fail.
These are BIG, admirable words. However, reading them here in a list leaves me feeling as though I’m eating alphabet soup. Understanding what is required for good character is only the most basic step. In fact, most of us already know parts of Turknett’s model. The chasm between knowing and doing is enormous. That chasm is where we all live.
Don’t Mistake the Map for the Territory
One important step in actualizing the BIG words in Turknett’s model in a live human being is recognizing the limitations of language. The word “courage” is not courage itself. Conversational Intelligence describes how words and meaning aren’t always a perfect match, “In 1931, Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American scientist and philosopher, coined the phrase “the map is not the territory” to distinguish the words we use to describe reality from reality itself. Korzybski said that we often confuse the map (the way our minds represent reality) with the territory (our physical reality) and don’t realize we are confusing the two. We communicate with others as though we all share the same map—and the same world—which causes conflict and collisions.”
Often the conflicts and collisions mentioned above are internal. Sometimes we actually don’t know what the words mean in a given situation. The words may point the way but one has to take action to make them real.
Translate Into Action
Our daily behavior is what translates the description of good character into real life. Breaking each attribute down into corresponding actions and habits for ourselves—what one needs to do—is critical to getting beyond BIG words. Integrity, which Turknett has as the foundation of its model, is a great example. How do you translate the word “Integrity” into daily action?
Here’s one approach from Landmark Education that I have found amazingly clear, simple, and helpful. “Definition of Integrity; Part 1–Honoring Your Word. Doing what you said you would do, and doing it on time. Doing what you know to do and doing it as it was meant to be done, and doing it on time. Doing what others would expect you to do, even if you haven’t said that you would do it, and doing it on time. Whenever you will not be doing any of the above, saying so as soon as you realize you won’t be doing it, or won’t be doing it on time, and saying if you will do it and by when, or saying you won’t be doing it at all. Dealing with the consequences of your not doing it on time, or not doing it all, for those who are impacted by your not doing it on time or not doing it at all.”
Upon examination, this definition is brutal. But, that’s because it’s based on behavior. By this standard, integrity is no longer a vague concept centered in “being a decent person”. When most people (including me) compare their lives to this definition, the gaps and failures come into stark reality. I think about all the times I’ve said “I’ll call you back” or “I’ll get that to you tomorrow” or “Let’s get together some time”, and I cringe. And, to be honest, those are the lightweight examples. But, as difficult as it may be, if I am to be authentic about cultivating character, I have to start with real life and real behavior.
Create Impressions Through Experience
The BIG words and concepts point to specific actions. Those actions become ongoing habits and behaviors. Then, the behaviors result in an experience for employees and other stakeholders. And, it’s the experience that matters. It’s the experience that creates the lasting impression that people remember months and years later. Maya Angelou explains, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Thus, the highest level of character is giving people the experience of integrity, respect and responsibility, or other character traits when one is present. Without being spoken or doing anything, people feel the presence of integrity, for example. They know it’s there.
From the standpoint of business, Marty and Tino from the Turknett Leadership Group assert that “good character” drives positive outcomes. Moreover, I’ve heard this assertion from over 200 different CEOs over three years. If this belief is true, then why do we so often tolerate contradictory behavior in ourselves and others? Because we have to. Every human being on planet earth has varied character. Since character is not binary, good character is a myth. We all exist on a spectrum that varies between individuals or within an individual over time. And, we don’t always know where we (or others) are on the scale.
So, this is where things get tricky. We have to make trade-offs. And in business, money is almost always involved. What is good character? It’s a process. It’s the process of being guided by our conscience to take the BIG concepts and translate them into action and experience. Not easy, but as I’ve heard so many times from Turknett and all the CEOs on this show, definitely worthwhile.