“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of US (1809 – 1865). Lincoln’s own stories
I have been submitted and committed to a lot of thinking about leadership. Submitted in the sense that I have been assigned to be on a five-day course on the topic, committed in the sense that I am quite fascinated about the subject. Character impacts every aspect of leadership, and includes qualities such as integrity, honesty, firmness, discipline and self-control, in addition to fairness, empathy, ethical and moral judgement, and even wisdom. Rare qualities for sure, but when they are displayed it could be transformative for any organization or group.
Strong technical skills and general intelligence is part of the mix but it is the formation of character that sets a leader apart from mere manager or technocrat. I do not always agree with the views of Margaret Wente from the Globe and Mail (more often than not) but I feel she has gotten to the essence of things in her piece Victorian values for the 21st century.
The issue of character has also been demonstrated in a wide range of books that have recently been published, but have their approach from diverse perspectives.
From a child development point of view is How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character by Paul Tough. Another variant on this theme with the target group being adults is David Brooks’ The social animal: the hidden sources of love, character, and achievement. Here Brooks traces how the lives of a middle class man and a working class woman are shaped and developed by cumulative life choices as well as those foisted upon them.
In the business and work setting is perseverance, an attribute that often demands the most of our character. Excellent examples pointing to hard earned success include Adapt: why success always starts with failure by Tim Harford, Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn: life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses by John C. Maxwell, Fail Up: 20 lessons on building success from failure by PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley, and the candid self-critical portrait by Michael Ignatieff Fire and Ashes: success and failure in politics.
Another side of the equation is the temptation to blame others or look for excuses. A title that exemplifies this philosophy is Blame Game: how the hidden rules of credit and blame determine our success or failure by Ben Dattner. As individuals we can only control so much, as chance does have a role in our lives. Our character forms the foundation of how we conduct ourselves, translating in a larger sense, to a stable, dignified society and civilization in a very chaotic world. To that ever famous author anonymous; “adversity does not build character, it reveals it!”