I posed this question to a class of nearly 50 students: “What do you want to be most in life? The answers were “healthy”, “happy”, “rich”, “graduated”, “lucky with girls”, “is this a trick question? “.
No one said “I wish I was a person of good character”. Yet people of good character are what we expect most from business, government, colleagues and especially our leaders.
Research at Harvard University found that 85% of a leader’s performance depends on their personal character. Similarly, the work of Daniel Goleman makes it clear that leadership success or failure is generally due to the “qualities of the heart” (see “The Emotional Intelligence of Leaders,” Fall 1998).
According to respected author Warren Bennis, “For leaders, character is framed by drive, competence and integrity. Most senior executives have the drive and skills to lead. But, too often, organizations elevate people who lack a moral compass. I call them “destructive achievers. They are rarely bad people, but by using resources for purposes other than achieving their own goals, they often diminish the company. Such leaders rarely last, for the simple reason that without the three ingredients – drive, competence, and moral compass – it is difficult to engage others and sustain meaningful results.
In another study at Santa Clara University in California, a researcher conducted a survey of 1,500 business leaders revealing what workers value most in a supervisor. Employees said they respect a leader who demonstrates competence, has the ability to inspire workers and is good at giving direction. But there was a fourth quality they admired even more: integrity. Above all, the workers wanted a manager with a good word, who was known for his honesty and whom they could trust, in other words, a good character.
Character matters today and companies that do not demand good character from their employees and supervisors are at a competitive disadvantage in a market dominated by customers who value integrity. I love Dennis Prager’s definition of character, the interweaving of the right values, and the self-control to act consistently on those values.
Prager further defines values as the things in our life that we consider more important than our desires. For example, I have the value of working a whole day, but I want to play crazy computer games. If I’m a character person, I’ll turn off the computer games and come back to this column.
You and I can live as leaders of character and teach by example; in action and in words, the importance of character for our employees by insisting that they do the same for our customers. And when we’re wrong – and we will – admit our missteps rather than try to cover them up, then move on.
Consciously, specifically, formally and informally teach integrity to our respective teams. Meanwhile, I have a “free cell” game to come back to. On second thought, maybe grading midterm exams is a better idea at this time.
Charlie Dexter is Emeritus Professor of Applied Business at UAF Community and Technical College. He can be contacted at [email protected] This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Applied Affairs Department.