Since releasing The Heart of Leadership, I've received a lot of feedback supporting the big idea of the book: If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills. If this is true, why does leadership character get so little attention?
I’ve been asking others and myself this question. Here’s what I’ve concluded.
Many are unsure what leadership character looks like.
If you can’t define something, or even identify it, it’s unlikely you’ll give it much attention. Unfortunately, not talking about something doesn’t diminish its existence or its relevance. That’s one of the primary objectives of my book: To depict leadership character in action – to make it visible.
We don’t differentiate leadership character from other “baseline” character traits.
This is the trap I was in for years. When someone would ask me about leadership character, I would quickly begin to talk about integrity, honesty, loyalty and the like. That was the wrong answer! These traits I just mentioned, and others like them, should be present in all our people. Yes, leaders must embody these baseline character traits; however, these alone will not make the person a leader. Leadership character consists of additional traits - traits that differentiate leaders from followers.
It’s easier to see skill gaps – leadership character gaps are often masked.
If a leader cannot cast vision, build an effective team or solve problems, these gaps manifest themselves in a very public forum. Skills gaps are there for all to see. Issues of the heart are often veiled. Unfortunately, leadership character issues can sometimes go undetected for a long time. In part, because there’s no common language around leadership character. If that’s the case, you may hear people say things like, “I don’t know why exactly, but I don’t trust that leader.”
Leadership skill issues are easier to remedy than leadership character issues.
Let’s suppose you see a leader who hasn’t mastered the core practices of leadership. Perhaps he or she cannot communicate vision in a clear and compelling fashion – what do you do? That’s easy. You start by giving them some feedback and coaching. If that doesn’t work, you send them to a public speaking course and you get them an outside coach. The same general prescription can be used for virtually any skill gap. It’s easy, predictable and has a high success rate. That’s why we focus on skill over leadership character. Character issues, on the other hand, are much harder to address and the prescription is less clear. That’s why I knew The Heart of Leadership had to provide specific action steps to strengthen leadership character. It’s hard, often slow work, but it is doable.
If you know a leader who has historically focused exclusively on building the skills of leadership; or a leader who has huge upside potential if he or she can strengthen their leadership character; send them a copy of The Heart of Leadership. It could be the catalyst they need to reach their full leadership potential.
The truth is we all need to strengthen our leadership character. It’s a never-ending process with huge consequences – good or bad. The best leadership advice I ever received was this…
Above all else, guard your heart. For everything you do flows from it.[GLS_Shield]