Jeff Gandz, Mary Crossan, Gerrard Sejits and Mark Reno, of the Richard Ivey School of Business recently published an interesting article about senior leadership in the Ivey Business Journal. They suggest that leadership has three dimensions – character, competencies and commitment. And courage consists of a great list of attributes – courage, transcendence, drive, accountability, collaboration, humanity, justice, temperance, integrity, and humility. Wow. A good leader needs to be ready to walk on water.
The article is well worth the read. But here is the thing – I think that character is not something that just magically happens. Character is developed in the same way that competencies are developed – through awareness and personal response to life experiences.
If character is a key aspect of leadership, it needs to be front and centre in any conversation about leadership. But often, conversations about character end up sounding like sermons or a conversation with a physician starting with the phrase “you should….” . Somehow character has a vaguely religious overtone that can quickly be preachy or paternalistic. Even worse, character coaching can often sound like somehow that I, the boss, am better than you, the employee. How do we build character, which is intensely personal, in the workplace environment?
My prescription for building character is three-fold. One, walk the talk – role model the behaviour you expect, and apologize when you aren’t behaving up to standard. Two, catch them doing something right. When you see an employee modelling “good character”, reinforce, reward and praise. Finally, make character one of your criteria for promotion. Be specific about appropriate character related behaviours, and provide feedback.
Me? I’m working on temperance – patient, calm and self-controlled. Patience has never been one of my strengths. What about you?