Character: The First Non-Negotiable Trait Of Leadership

by Dave Anderson

A recent survey of Fortune 500 executives found that 71% said character was the number one trait looked at to move up the corporate ladder because without it, nothing else will matter for long. Character is the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. By the time one is in a leadership position, character is normally well formed. Turning someone’s character around takes enormous amounts of time and energy and most of the time you never do. Following are thoughts on character that explain why character is a non-negotiable trait of leadership:

Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there. The sad fact is that people can get on top in business, politics and religion with poor character. In fact, it happens all the time. However, normally it’s just a matter of time before these people self-destruct: no one does them in, they just can’t get out of their own way.

Character is not made in crisis, it’s revealed in it. When someone is going through a tough time, their character is not built as much as revealed. Whatever character they have, or don’t have, will show up. Pay attention. What you see when this happens is what’s really there.

If someone is dishonest in small things, he will abuse the big things terribly. One common mistake leaders make is to trivialize or dismiss the small dishonest tendencies they notice with their employees: little lies, little let-ups of best effort, convenient “bending” of character to fit the situation, minimal financial indiscretions, etc. The reason these minor offenders haven’t inflicted more damage is only because they haven’t had the opportunity. Turn a blind eye to dishonesty in “small things” and suffer a black eye when your “small time crook” decides to move up to the big time.

Good character is more than honesty and integrity. Weakness of character shows up in many areas other than lying, cheating and stealing. Weakness of character shows up in the following: failing to meet deadlines, not persisting in the face of difficulties, a refusal to accept responsibilities for one’s actions, being neither dependable nor loyal, a weak work ethic and being motivated to decide and act by the wrong motives.

Leaders who maintain their character also realize that the difference between a human error and a huge conspiracy is a confession of the truth before the issue is discovered. Top leaders do the right thing regardless of cost; even when doing the right thing makes it appear as though they’ve lost in the short run. Look at character closely in those you would promote or bring into your organization. Don’t underestimate the penalty for compromising your standards to fit the person. Make the person fit your standards. And if your own character could use some polishing, understand that weakness of character will be the limiting step that prevents you from ever achieving your true potential.


© Copyright 1999-2001, The Dave Anderson Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Dave Anderson is the author of over 50 sales and management training programs and the book, Selling Above The Crowd: 365 Strategies For Sales Excellence. He writes a monthly leadership column for Dealer Magazine and publishes the newsletter, Leading At The Next Level. Dave is president of the Dave Anderson Corporation, and LearntoLead.com, a sales and leadership training organization.

You can reach Dave at:
The Dave Anderson Corporation
PO Box 1119
Los Altos, CA 94023
Phone: 800-519-8224       650-941-1493 (Canada, Int’l)
Fax: 650-949-4270
E-mail: dave@learntolead.com