Lead with Character

leadershipLeadership is the hot topic these days – who should be the leader? How should they lead? What is leadership behavior? All good questions and depending on your perspective, there are multiple good answers. When someone asks me about “leadership” or what type of “leader” they should be or what does a successful leader look like, I usually start by asking “who” they are, meaning, who are they personally? Professionally? What do they believe and stand for? All of these make up their character and if you don’t lead with congruency to your own character, it’s game over.

So many leaders try to fit into a mold they believe is what a good leader looks like – which may or may not fit with who they are. If you try to lead in a way that is not consistent with your values, you won’t be leading for very long. Like a dog who can sense fear in a human, those who follow can instantly sense inauthenticity in a leader. A disconnect between what they say and what they do. There is not a costume you can don to put on your “leadership” and instantly transform like Clark Kent into a super leader. The only “costume” is the one you wear all the time.

Character is defined by Webster’s as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” People look to leaders to have qualities like integrity and authenticity and these are all part of what makes up character. Leaders who lead with their own character and values are so far ahead of the rest of the pack that it looks like they got a mile head start. Don’t worry about what people think of you or how you are going to look. If your character and values are your guide, you will always do right by you and usually by others as well.

People make the choice to follow a leader – or not – if they believe the leader has the ability to help the organization and its people get somewhere they could not or would not get on their own. The leaders that have what they believe to be character will be the ones they follow even though they may not truly believe or understand the mission or the “how” of the situation just yet. The decision relies on the willingness to “trust.” At the heart of every leader we follow is that for now we “trust” them more than we trust ourselves to go it alone. When trust breaks down, the followers go away. Even worse, they can rebel, and chaos can ensue.

Leaders start by trusting themselves, being true to their character and values and doing the right thing (to the best of their ability or knowledge). Whether leading an organization, a group, your family or yourself, the easiest path is to start by leading with your own true self – your character.