Character — the Foundation of Leadership

Character Character Vennis the sum of a person’s habits and qualities. It is the center of a Venn diagram of your skills, knowledge, abilities, values, relationships, past experiences, habits, and personality. Developing good character helps develop a good reputation, which helps gain influence. Others determine whether or not you are a good leader, or have the potential to be a good leader, by observing common traits in the character of other good leaders. Developing good character traits is within your control.

In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek tells a story about the order leaders in the military eat. He reports that without orders or instruction that enlisted military members eat before the noncommissioned officers, and noncommissioned officers before officers, according to rank. The reality is, those lessons are taught to junior leaders. As a brand new howitzer section chief, I decided to eat during a break in firing, before the rest of my section. I reasoned they could go to chow when we resumed firing, but I needed to be on the gun to supervise operations. As I neared the front of the line, I was approached by my platoon sergeant. He noted he had not seen several of my Soldiers yet. He sent me back to my gun without chow and directed me to eat after the rest of my section. The military trains leaders well, and learning to take care of troops is a key lesson that is taught.

The battery resumed firing before I was able to eat. I still had Soldiers going to chow. I did eat that evening. The last guy from my section brought me a plate of food because he knew I would miss chow during the fire missions. I learned the lesson of why leaders eat last. When leaders take care of their troops, their troops will take care of them.

DOD-2009-USMC by SSGT Greeson-flickr.jpgThat first lesson I learned during field feeding taught me the importance of taking care of those you lead. When your followers know you are taking care of their needs, they know they can focus on their tasks required to accomplish the mission. They know you have their back. That only happens when leaders receive trust from those they lead. Trust turns into respect. Respect creates disciplined organizations. Disciplined organizations accomplish great things in the face of adversity.

Anyone can build the kind of character that encourages others to follow them. Look at each element of character. To acquire any of those attributes, potential leaders need to act. Action is the key to leading others.

Knowledge

Leaders need education. Three pillars of gaining knowledge include institutional education, personal development, and real world assignments. Each provides different opportunities to learn.

Institutional education provides general information about the topics included in the course of study. The lessons learned in the classroom provide a background to help people think and reason when problem solving. One learns the theory behind the practice.Roberto-Saltori_Knowledge_Management-flikr.jpg

Real world assignments provide opportunities to apply classroom lessons. New graduates are given low level, simple issues to resolve. They are closely supervised to ensure they understand the expectations as they apply their knowledge. These opportunities allow people to apply their classroom knowledge and make mistakes on low-risk assignments in order to develop deeper understanding of underlying principals in their lessons.

Self development describes a variety of educational means. Examples include reading topical books and journals, asking for extra assignments to meet stretch goals, field trips to locations relevant to the work, and self selected training events or conferences. The smart young leader figures out what knowledge s/he needs to improve his or her performance and finds a way to gain that knowledge. Self development is viewed by more senior leaders as a key indicators of younger leaders potential for greater responsibility. It is demonstrative of their diligence.

Skills and Abilities

Most of the skills and abilities required of leaders have little to do with doing the work of the organization. Knowing how a machinist works a piece of metal, a warehouse employee finds a widget, or what day employment taxes need to be filed generally are important details for others. Knowing those things need to be done and finding the right people to do them is the leader’s job. Leadership requires skill to develop effective processes, the ability to apply influence to seniors, peers, and subordinates alike, and ensure resources are available.

Many have said that leaders lead people, and managers manage things. Someone can be a good manager and a bad leader. Leaders who are poor managers never become good leaders. Managing resources is an important skill so your followers have required resources to do their jobs.

Habits

I had a friend, Gerry Berry, who often said something like, “You always make time for the things that are important to you.” This would often come up when we would discuss doing something together outside of work; we being a few of us. It was rare that our little group of friends could always find the same day and time to do something with everyone. He would direct that line to those who had previous commitments as a way of reminding all of us about the importance of how we choose to use our time. Others determine what we value by the choices we make including how use of time.

Gerry developed an aggressive form of cancer while he was still young. He dreamed of building a barn for his wife and son so they could move the horses they loved to his home. Several of his friends developed a plan to build the barn before he died. At no time were all his friends present on the property at the same time. However, over the course of a week, everyone found some time to participate in some way. What do your habits tell others what you find important?

Experience

wing-cloud-sky-adventure-wind-old-593601-pxhere.com.jpgUnlike the other factors discussed above, we only have limited control of our experiences. A person may seek out experiences, but sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time with an open mind and properly prepared for some experiences. There are plenty of experiences people can control and obtain. You can choose to hike the Appalachian Trail and gain that experience. You can choose to develop a speaking program and present it to several local civic groups to demonstrate expertise in a subject area. Not everyone can go to Harvard, but most people can complete college if they really want and have a college experience. Not everyone can perform in Carnegie Hall, but there are plenty of performance venues if you want to perform.

Trying new things and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone allows you to understand more things in life. You become more emphatic with the plight and victories of others. You learn and gain knowledge. You learn about abilities you did not possess and you learn about others. There are plenty of things you can do to broaden you experiences.

Relationships

I often heard an expression that one can tell much about another by the way s/he treats those who can do nothing for them. Too often we treat co-workers better than friends or family members and our bosses better than co-workers. We believe we have to display our best behaviors at work, and we should. If we go back to the integrity thought, our treatment of friends and family is really a reflection of what we do when others are not watching. Yes, you have to be on your best behavior at home.Leonora(Ellie)Enking-alesalbanianwaiter-flickr.jpg

People of character treat everyone with respect and dignity. That does not mean you have to agree with everyone all the time about everything. Actually, to give that impression is disrespectful and not helpful. How you disagree with others is a true indicator of your respect for another person. It is okay to agree to disagree. People notice the character of your relationships to determine whether or not they should develop one with you. People want and need to interact with others. People who value others, find others value them. You demonstrate your value others by paying attention to them. Ignore your phone. Your social media feed will wait until you are alone. Focus your attention on the person in front of you.

Be on time. When you tell someone you will meet them at a certain time, do it. Adopt the idea that being early is being on time, being on time is late, and being late is unacceptable. Never keep your boss, a client, a friend, or a family member waiting.

Do what you say you are going to do. If you fail to fulfill promises, no one will trust you. It is better to under promise and over deliver than miss a deadline.

Personality

There are lots of personality tests out there. People take them for many reasons. Your tested personality is irrelevant. Many personality test questions ask what you prefer. What you prefer does not dictate what you do. What you do matters, even if it is not your natural preference.

Learn to take charge of your preferences, control them, and do what is necessary in any given moment. There are times to speak and times to listen. There are times for action and times to wait. I think this ends with, “There is a time to every season under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). These lessons are from ancient knowledge. Wisdom comes from learning when and how to apply them.

nature-forest-house-building-hut-village-1216943-pxhere.com-cropped.jpgThe foundations of character date back eons. Periodic reviews, such as this blog, keep lessons fresh in people’s minds. Each of us can change our behavior to improve our character.

Character is the foundation of leadership because it forms a solid base of power to influence others. Character is the focus of your knowledge, skills, abilities, values, relationships, and personality. People are predisposed to behave certain ways in situations based on each of these factors. Because people are self-aware, they can judge how their behaviors in each area affects their chosen path. People can choose responsible character building behaviors rather than their preferred responses. Successful leaders understand when and how to match their behaviors to those required for best results. Application becomes easier with practice and reflection. People make mistakes. Smart people learn from their mistakes. Work on your character in order to build a strong foundation as a leader.


Photo Credits

Venn Diagram by the author Creative Commons Attribution

Chow Line from US DOD by SSGT Greeson, USMC public domain

Knowledge Management by Roberto Saltori from flickr.com CC Attribution Reuse

Wild Blue Yonder from pxhere.com CC0

Nature Forest House from pxhere.com CC0 — cropped by the author

All Leaders are Front-line Leaders

TassieEye.Flickr.jpg

Organizations promote good leaders front line leaders into senior leaders. As leaders move through the levels of leadership, they need to adapt to their leadership style to meet the level they reach. Front line leaders address the challenges facing the organization here and now. Mid level leaders prepare the organization to face expected challenges in the next few days to several weeks. Senior level leaders anticipate problems for the organization months and years from now. One thing all levels of leaders deal with are those problems that occur today. At every level, all leaders need front line leader skills. Whether you are on your first day as a new shop foreman supervising ten machine operators, or the CEO of a major corporation with ten vice presidents reporting to you, you directly supervise and lead people every day. There are three basic attributes front line leaders at every level must understand, possess, and use; character, leading skills, and action.

Character is the foundation of leadership. Character is the collection of habits and actions taken by a person commonly defined by their hidden and stated beliefs. A habit is simply something a person does repeatedly.

A mid-level leader in a leadership workshop confessed his surprise hearing the expressions from his employees about how much he cared. He received a promotion and was moving to a new assignment. During his last days in that assignment, almost all of his workers approached him at some point and told him how much they appreciated the personal attention he provided regarding some sort of personal issue. They each said it showed he cared about everyone of them. He told the crowd of other mid-level leaders he did not remember most of the issues for which each thanked him.

hand-leg-finger-food-produce-care-1028578-pxhere.com.jpgHe told his classmates he devised a simple system using spreadsheet software to track employee issues. Every morning he made a list of people to contact to follow up on those issues ensuring they were addressed. His actions allowed employees to focus on their work, not their problems. His habit of tracking people’s problems and checking with them periodically, resulted in a reputation of being a compassionate leader. He only spoke with others who had a reason to know about the problem in order to provide support to the employee or help resolve the problem. He did not gossip. His habit of keeping his mouth shut gained him the reputation of being trustworthy. His habits and actions told others the story of how he felt about resolving people’s problems, not a speech delivered from a soapbox about being there to help his people. His character was defined by what he did, not what he said.

Front-line leaders need to find ways to organize information and their schedule or people think they are unreliable. Discipline is critical to repeat effective actions until they become habits and create your character. Learning how to relate with others enables leaders to motivate and influence people them by finding how individual needs, interests, and abilities align with organizational requirements and mission accomplishment.

In order to influence others, a leader needs power. @wewon31-power-linup_flickr.jpgPower is commonly obtained in one of a few ways. The first is positional power, that which an organization give an individual in supervisory positions. Another is expert power. If you are an expert by means of knowledge on a topic, or possess a critical skill that you use and share. You sway others by your expertise. A third source of power is attraction. That ability some people have to draw the positive attention from others and to make others want to be liked by them. Often called charisma, it enables those endowed with it to influence people by bestowing attention on those seeking their approval. A final source of power is reward and punishment. This sounds like something a boss can do, such as providing a wage increase, or dismissing an employee. In this example it is not someone in a position of authority. People who use rewards and punishment for power include people like playground bullies, or a grass roots community activist. Each finds ways to reward and punish people they influence outside traditional organizational structures. Some example include using force in the case of the bully, or endorsing a political candidate in the case of the activist. These rewards and punishments lack official sanction. The power comes from the personal traits of the individual such as strength or speaking ability. 102_0158.JPGLearning to develop power across several sources is a skill necessary to influence others. Each has benefits and limitations depending on the skill of the wielder, the situation, and the audience. Each is a tool. One cannot build a house only using a saw; likewise, one cannot lead well with only one source of power.

A final critical skill for all leaders is communication. Leaders need to write well, speak well, understand how others use words to indicate problems and answer, use body language, customs and courtesies that make others feel welcome or insulted, and adapt their communication style to their audience. Use different words and sentence structure recruiting in a college classroom full of young and presenting a financial report to your board of directors comprised of older, experienced professionals. New line workers need different instructions than veteran equipment operators. Respect shown to all you deal with speaks louder than all your words.

An instructor at an officer candidate school charged the class to develop the best order to direct a platoon to erect a flagpole. Each candidate was given 30 minutes. After 30 minutes each student made their presentation. Each had multiple slides in a deck explaining the process of digging the hole; others had lengthy material specifications and work plans; and others had maps, charts, and diagrams showing how they would move the pole, position equipment, and stand the pole. When the students were finished the instructor congratulated them on their hard work. He asked them who the audience was for their order. All agreed it was for the members of their platoon. The instructor pointed out their slide decks and other media were great if they were briefing a general about how they planned to install a pole. The assignment directions were to issue an order to erect a flag pole. The instructor shouted, “Platoon Sergeant, POST.” The platoon sergeant ran to the front of the class and reported to the instructor. After exchanging salutes, the instructor said, “Sergeant install that flag pole,” and pointed to the flagpole, “over there where the grade stake is located.” The sergeant saluted, said, “Yes Sir.” and left to start installing the flagpole.

Community-Bible-Church_Flickr.jpgThis story illustrates the importance of knowing your audience and the message they need to hear. As the instructor pointed out, if the message is what the candidates needed to request to install a flagpole, the communication is different than directing a Soldier to emplace the flagpole. Of course if the Soldiers were less experienced than the Platoon Sergeant, the instructor needed to provide more direction. The senior person in the story understood he was directing another experienced person to complete a task. Detailed instructions were not required.Pete-Birkinshaw_Flickr_YouRangSir.jpg

Action, the process of making things happen. Anyone can sit in their cubical all day and plan for the future. Only those who step outside their cubical and take action accomplish things. Reflection is important. It allows us to see what is, and what could be. Without action, what could be remains a dream. One only gains character by doing something. Character is the sum of our habits, the things we do. Without those actions, one has no character. Developing character requires action.

Planning is action, but planning without execution is planning resulting in nothing. Executing results in success. There are plenty of things individuals execute alone and help develop character, but one is only a leader when others are motivated to help execute. Leaders provide motivation through communication. Communication is action. Leaders share their vision of the future, a vision that inspires others to follow the leader on the path to success. Leaders execute communication by coaching and counseling their direct reports. Coaching and counseling are actions. Leaders set up their direct reports for success by taking action to ensure resources are available to accomplish tasks. Resourcing is action. Leaders act and set the example by pxhere-actionconfronting unacceptable behaviors and addressing uncomfortable truths, such as failures to reach revenue expectations. Setting standards is action. Leaders execute by jumping in, getting their hands dirty and shoes messy. Doing something dirty is action. Leaders develop power and influence by doing things; acting, not just talking and planning. If you are not doing, you are not leading. Leading is a verb. Verbs are action. Actions, executed properly at the right time by the right right people result in success. You can plan. You can talk. You can be virtuous. You accomplish nothing until you act.

No matter how high one climbs the organizational ladder, one is always a front-line leader. CEOs have VP s and staffs reporting to them. Middle managers have front-line supervisors to lead. Every leader has someone who reports to them about something, or they would not be leading. In order to lead, you must have followers. The direct leadership required of a VP probably is not the same as a new hire on the cook line, but both need proper supervision and leadership from their boss. Provide regular front-line leadership to your direct reports as you prepare your organization, or your part of an organization, for the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Build your character so you are worthy of respect. Communicate so they understand. Act by counseling, coaching, and executing. Use your front-line leader skill at all levels and be a leader who succeeds.


Photo Credits

Birds in line by Tassieeye from Flickr.com  CC License

Holding hands from pxhere.com 0CC License

Powerlines by @wewon31 from Flickr.com CC License

Tool Box by author  CC License

Network by Community Bible Church from Flickr.com CC License

Old Telephone Box by Pete Birkinshaw from Flickr.com CC License

Action Biking from pxhere.com 0CC License

Powering the Leadership Spotlight

Wise leaders understand and obtaining power at many levels. While the opening statement may sound Machavellian and turn away, power is necessary to influence others to accomplish tasks that grow and improve the organization. Leaders set agendas. Without power, organizations deteriorate or cease to exist. Leaders do not work alone. If you want to lead you need to acquire and harness power.

Power focuses organizational energy. Think of power like a spot light. The leader focuses the light in the direction he wants the followers to go, illuminating the objective. Without a power source there is no light to focus, no objective to achieve.light-black-and-white-white-street-night-photography-266526-pxhere.com.jpg

In an organization leaders often have one or more power sources available to accomplish goals of the organization. The common power sources include, referent, expert, coercive, legitimate and reward. A short description of each and their uses follow.

Referent power is likability. A more common word, is charisma. This source of power may get you in the door, but rarely lasts long except with those who are weak.

Expert power stems from one’s ability to do well or have specialized knowledge. This provides power in two ways. The first is like the artillerymen of old who guarded the secrets of their craft so their skills would always be in demand by armies. The second yet potentially fleeting source is through the ability to teach others your skill or knowledge. When you share those secrets that have made you successful, you have the potential to create rivals and replacements. Alternatively, you could also develop collaborators who desire to achieve more than either of you could alone.

Legitimate, reward and coercive often go together but not always. Legitimate power is granted when awarded a leadership position within an organization. CEOs have legitimate power to run their cooperation. They also possesses the ability to dole out rewards such as pay raises, promotions and prime parking spaces. On the coercive side, is employment termination, demotions and selection of another’s pet project. Reward and coercive power does not solely rest with formal leaders. Sales reps can influence behavior by offering a better price or withholding the latest product based on previous purchasing decisions.

Power is a tool. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem or opportunity looks like a nail. However the skilled carpenter with a small complement of tools is capable of building beautiful things. Between his experience and tools he can fashion wood into anything he can imagine. Take another person with a workshop full of tools and no skills. This person would have difficulty building a simple wooden box.

Leaders need to develop a full complement of power sources to influence others. They must learn how to obtain, develop and use each tool. As they practice they will find that the tool they used to accomplish a task with one piece of wood, will not work so well with another piece. One version of a tool may not be capable of completing every job much like using a framing hammer to drive a tack. A tack hammer is the better choice.

As leaders practice their leadership skills they increase the power options available. Using a variety of tools shape followers into quality employees, volunteers and future leaders. When they show those future leaders how to use the full spectrum of leadership powers, they prepare the organization for continued success well into the future as new leaders learn to adjust the focus and intensity of the organization’s spotlight.