Organization & Leadership Consulting

Why Character Development Precedes Effective Leadership

Each word in the above title deserves its own blog. For this brief attempt at provoking your thinking about familiar things in less familiar ways, let’s give each word one short paragraph, but not necessarily in the same order. 


35,000…that is the number of leadership definitions that researchers have documented. To simplify it…you know it when you see it, for good or for ill. To add one layer of definition, leadership is a combination of being and acting that helps those who choose to follow move successfully from one place to another. That place could be geographical, economic, operational scale, state of being, etc. Leaders bring about intentional change for good, or ill. If a person in a leadership role is not intentional about the change being for good…beware.


When it comes to leadership, “cause and effect” is rarely neutral. The outcome (ultimate effect) is either positive or negative. Even an attempt at a truly neutral “cause” will eventually result in negative outcomes due to the Law of Entropy. The type of effect we are after here is “the achievement of an intended positive result”. While some leaders often succeed in bringing about intended negative outcomes, that is generally called evil…not the sort of character to emulate.


The origin of the word ‘character’ has to do with the process and tools used to engrave or stamp an image (a representation) onto solid material (a coin, pottery, scroll, etc). It eventually came to refer to the outcome of the process. Character is essentially a symbolic manifestation (representation) of an idea, concept, or principle. Thus, character is at the core of effective leadership because the ideas, concepts, and principles at the core of a person will determine the outcome of their leadership, even well after the initial results, which are often merely perceptions of a reality that has yet to play out.


To ‘develop’ comes from a Latin root that means “to wrap up”. This implies a process. Some processes have endings, some do not. The formation of an effective leader includes milestones but rarely is anyone fully developed. (Even the technology of developing photographs is constantly changing and improving.) So, a person’s character is constantly being developed. An effective leader with sound character chooses for it to happen with intentionality and toward a worthy purpose beyond themselves.


More Latin here: “To go before”. That seems obvious. However, the obvious is often taken for granted. Sound, reliable, high-ground character is not something that just happens. It requires external and internal intention and effort. To achieve sustainable positive effects, a leader must allow external influences to shape them while also taking the time to integrate a metaphorical stamping & engraving on their very being, one that will cause the effectiveness of their leadership to live on beyond them.

What will you determine is most important when it comes to that which goes before the effect you want to have?


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