Leadership Principle #3: Character Is King

By Rex Rolf, Career, Leadership and Performance Coach at Cornerstone Performance Group, LLC.

Cornerstone CPG Leadership Image - Character-is-King

In examining time-tested leadership attributes that are essential to long term success, my first two articles in this leadership series discussed Declare How You Will Lead and What You Expect From Others and Model Good Leadership Behaviors. In this article I want to address the attribute that is foundational to all the others. It’s the primary quality that defines who a person truly is and their worthiness to be a respected leader. That key attribute is ones’ character. Wikipedia identifies character more specifically as moral character which is an evaluation of a an individual’s stable moral qualities. The concept of character implies a variety of attributes and virtues such as empathy, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty. Moral character primarily refers to the assemblage of qualities that distinguishes and defines the virtues that separate one individual from another.

Just as Disney’s Mufasa exhibited, Character is King for the leader that has a mission greater than him/herself and desires to be respected for good qualities so that his/her followers will want to stay engaged through thick and thin, and will treat others they lead in kind. If you consistently demonstrate good character, people will follow you out of respect and desire versus compliance or obedience. Modern society has blurred and devalued the character-centered values of right and wrong and good and bad. Relativism has too often replaced our traditional values and ethics, values that have embodied our national discourse for generations going back to the founding of our country. Relativism is a doctrine that suggests knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute. I disagree, good character is absolute, it is timeless, it can and should remain consistent regardless of culture, and it is not to be compromised by an ever-changing societal context consisting of lesser standards.

Your character is your compass that points you in the direction that you believe you should go to accomplish a goal or higher standing. Metaphorically speaking, if you believe that settting your personal compass in a northerly direction sets you on the correct path to reach your destination, then your character calibrates your compass and forms the guiding principles that will lead you towards your objective. As in rocketry, a small deviation from your launch point early in your character trajectory can cause you to end up way off coarse later in your journey. If you maintain the direct path that good character indicates, sooner or later you’ll likely hit your target. If you don’t achieve your original goal, a new and perhaps better destination may replace it. At least you can take pride in the fact that you chose your path for noble reasons and you’ll be respected for it and learn from your experience.

Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden shared his view about how important character is when he quoted “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, and your reputation is merely what other think you are”. As for me, I believe “a person of good moral character changes the world for the better, whereas a person void of moral character is changed by the world for the worst.”

In 1726, at the young age of 20, Benjamin Franklin created a system of 13 Virtues that would provide the compass for the direction he wanted to go in life. These guiding principles became his clear path to success. In his time, Benjamin Franklin was the embodiment of respect and achievement. His success speaks volumes as to why one should declare and document their own guiding principles and earnestly live by them. I believe that the embracing of guiding principles that are based on good moral character is an extremely important factor that can positively impact ones’ happiness and success.

Your reputation is built brick by brick over a long period of time. Your character is the cornerstone of that reputation; remove the cornerstone and your life and role as a respected leader can tumble into rubble. However, if you are purposeful about how you employ solid values in your life you can thrive. Have you written down and applied your virtues driven guiding principles and do you try and stick to them no matter what? Are you a positive example to others in this regard? Have you earned the respect of others by the character led behaviors you exhibit? Do you believe in modern Relativism or traditional Realism when it comes to character? Is Character a King Principle in how you conduct your life?

In my 4th upcoming article of this series on Best Leadership Principles I will discuss the subject of Wisdom.