Before a leader can lead anyone else, they must first lead themselves.
As I write this article, I am the owner and operator of my own business – Become Your Best Version (maybe you have heard of it? haha!). These last several years of entrepreneurial life have certainly shown me that self-leadership is the most important kind – and character is central to self-leadership.
However, this was an idea that solidified early on in my leadership career.
Long before starting my own consulting business, my first leadership position (with a title) led a team developing software in the auto industry. Not only was I new to the responsibility, but I had been promoted directly from among the team – so I was stretched and pushed into growth.
I had to learn to see a leader’s role very differently from how I had before becoming one myself.
As that team’s leader, much of my time was spent behind my desk. Occasionally I would enter the workshop to discuss progress. Meanwhile, my team’s time was divided evenly between their own desks and the workshop.
The workshop, as I am sure you can imagine, was a lively place – full of whirring tools and moving parts. And by its very nature, much more of a hazardous environment than the space behind a desk.
Anyone in the workshop was required to wear special shoes to protect their feet. This was a difficult rule to enforce, though. I found myself often reminding my team to put their safety shoes on – I would walk away from the workshop wondering why this simple rule was so hard to follow.
I didn’t see why until I realized that even I was not following it. I was not doing the very thing I was asking of my team!
I thought of it as a waste of time to change my shoes for a few moments in the workshop. But aligning words and actions is never a waste of time.
It was about demonstrating to my team that I was not above the standards I had set for them.
It was about showing them that, if the leader takes the time to change his shoes only for a moment or two, how much more important it must be for them to change them when they are in the workshop for longer.
It was about leading myself so that I could lead them.
And it was about having a character that was consistent in all situations.
That kind of character is foundational to leadership. I saw it that day and I see it more and more as I consult other leaders. Who we are is what we say plus what we do, and your team is always listening and watching.
Do you know what you value? If I asked you, could you summarize the point of your leadership in ten words or less?
I don’t write this article to accuse you of being anything less than a person of character. My only goal is to share what I have come to learn about leadership. And today, that is this: character and leadership capacity are inseparable from one another.
And in case this is an area in which you would like to grow, here are three ways you can develop your character.
- Know your values. We are too quick to forget that decisions become simple when we know what is important to us. Uncertainty turns decisions into torturous thought experiments – confidence eliminates options that do not uphold our values.
- Practice what you preach. How will your team know that you believe what you claim to believe? How will they know you value what you claim to value? Only your actions can substantiate your words. And knowing what you value before the choice presents itself means you’ve already done half the work.
- Value people. As with true leadership, it is impossible to have character unless you value people. We become much more concerned about what is right when we are in the habit of putting others above ourselves.
I’ll leave you with a quote to think on. Leadership expert Dr. John C. Maxwell said, “Leaders cannot rise above the limitations of their character.” If you’ve been struggling to make progress, it may be time to align actions with words.
Until next time,
P.S. Thinking about your consistency of character? Join me for the next Leading on Mondays (1 August, 12 PM CET) where myself and my colleague Madalina Ghinescu will discuss this crucial element of leadership.
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