The anatomy of character
Character and Leadership – Selectively taken from the work of Warren Bennis at Leader to Leader Institute
There are many definitions of character, but for exemplary leaders character goes beyond ethical behavior (although that is essential) the word itself comes from the Greek for engraved or inscribed . For the leaders I have studied, character has to do with who we are, with how we organize our experience the great psychologist William James described it as “ the particular mental or moral attitude (that makes one feel ) most deeply and intensively active and alive … a voice inside which speaks and says,’ This is the real me “
Effective leaders – and effective people – know that voice well . They understand that there is no difference between becoming an affective leader and becoming a fully integrated human being .
Many aspects of character – such as our degree of energy or out cognitive skill—are probably determined at birth; others are influenced by our family life, our birth order, our relationships with parents , teachers, and friends
Yet character develops throughout life, including work life. Leaders can help others become more aware of their innate capacities . For example by examining the kinds of decisions they make and don’t make, senior executives and those they manage can develop their own character and cultivate new leadership throughout the organization.
For executive leaders, character framed by drive competence, and integrity. Most senior executives have the drive and competence necessary to lead. But too often organizations elevate people who lack the moral compass. I call them “ destructive achievers.” They are seldom evil people, but by using resources for no higher purpose than achievement of their own goals, they often diminish the enterprise. Such leaders seldom last, for the simple reason that without all three ingredients – drive, competence, and moral compass – it is difficult to engage others and sustain meaningful results.