by Michael Holland    

“Character is the will to do what’s right even when it’s hard.”  Andy Stanley

I love this definition.  It clearly articulates the tension that exists for a leader who can see the right ways and wrong ways when he is called to make a decision and pursue a particular path.  Only one path is right, even though he may try to rationalize why the other path is ok.  That kind of rationalization is a path to the slippery slope of character loss.

Survey after survey of the traits and values employees want in their bosses continue to reveal that they want a trustworthy, honest leader who has integrity.  Employees want a leader whose behaviors match their beliefs. They want a leader who stands for things that are believable, relevant, and good.  What’s so interesting, and what we often overlook, is that leaders are employees themselves, and as such, they want the same characteristics in their leaders.

Three ways to build your character:

  • Pre-Decide – Decide ahead of time how you will make difficult decisions. Make up your mind now about what standard you will hold yourself to as difficult decisions arise.
  • Write it Down – Invest the time to articulate this standard and why it is important to you.  Document how the standard is intertwined with your life.  Lock in the words, phrases, and paragraphs that define what’s important to you for yourself and why.
  • Practice Like You Play – Use this standard for all your decisions, starting with some of the most basic ones.  The habits of good character become habits because the behaviors are executed.  Every small decision creates ripples of impact which in turn lead us to bigger decisions. Character is built from the start of this cycle.

Andy Stanley says “Every leader wears two badges: one visible, one invisible.  The visible badge is your position and title.  The invisible badge is your moral authority”.   This moral authority is revealed in your character as employees, peers, and bosses see in the decisions you make and the way in which you carry yourself through the organization.  Sure, some “character-challenged” leaders appear successful by society’s standards.  But truly impactful, successful leaders can be found surrounded by engaged, dedicated employees who know they are following a leader with great character.

Truly impactful, successful leaders can be found surrounded by engaged, dedicated employees who know they are following a leader with great character.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • “Only one path is right, even though [the leader] may try to rationalize why the other path is ok.  That kind of rationalization is a path to the slippery slope of character loss.” Have you ever seen this happen with another leader? What are some ways you can assist others to avoid this slippery slope?
  • What do you think the following phrase means: “…some ‘character-challenged’ leaders appear successful by society’s standards.”? How could a leader appear successful in this way when they really lack the foundation of a strong character?
  • Take a moment to follow the “Write It Down” advice in the third bullet point. Think hard about what your standards are and why, then write it and put it somewhere you see often. Encourage others to do the same, then share why each of you value the things you articulated in your standard.