Sunday, January 23, 2022

Inside the Mind of Highly Effective Leaders: What Sets Them Apart!

By on November 28, 2021

Leaders that succeed at the highest echelon of society, business or in politics – don’t depend exclusively on raw talent, knowledge, or even on the mastery of their fields. They are driven by something more powerful, deep and personal: Character!  

It is imperative to understand that in these turbulent times of polarization and incivility, the character of leaders is in the spotlight.  

Character vs. Behavior 

Character is the foundation of strong personalities.  A unique blend of personal traits, skills and abilities – all shaped by moral values, principles and habits. More simply put: a combination of our mind, soul and backbone.  

Character builds over time through our experiences in life and what we choose to learn and do from them. Our actions are the true manifestation of the values we have internalized. Each choice and action we take adds or detracts from our character development. Strengthening one’s character involves doing good things that benefits others – an important and necessary condition to earn the trust of people.  

Behavior, on the other hand, is the manner of one’s conduct – how we react, our demeanor. Good character generates positive behavior. However, character failure has a profound and undermining impact on people’s minds resulting in negative behavior. Politicians distort facts or even lie to get elected, corporate leaders cheat customers and investors to enrich themselves, and professionals lie about their credentials and accomplishments to get ahead in their careers. 

Character, Persuasion, Influence 

Resilience, charisma, courage and emotional intelligence emanates from one source: character strength.  We each have a unique profile of character strength. This helps define who we are as individuals. Research conducted by LT. General Robert L. Caslen and Professor Michael D. Mathews at West Point, demonstrates that the performance of leaders with good character are driven by honesty, humility, high integrity, compassion and selflessness. These unique traits engraved in their personalities are what sets effective leaders apart and what most people admire. The magnetic pole, if you wish, that guides leaders’ compass not only to accomplish their goals consistently, but also to inspire people to emulate them. 

Good character gives leaders first, the ability to persuade others to see their point of view and thinking. Followed by the power to influence them. In other words, to get others to do what otherwise they would never see or do on their own and consequently change their minds and behaviors.  

The ability of an individual to persuade and influence others could be: the determining factor between leadership success and greatness, or failure and anonymity. 

The Power of Positive Character 

Many strong leaders are discovered in moments of crisis. Some by accident, when unpredictable events occur – they take charge! Others, already in positions of power at the top of organizations or governments, are catapulted to center stage by their power of persuasion and influence. Leaders with positive character have the power to move masses and even make significant changes to the structure of societies around the world. They could be that influential! 

Here are several leaders in history, their monumental contributions and the leadership qualities emanating from their characters that distinguished them: 

Franklin D. Roosevelt: The 32nd president of the United States. He led the country out of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in American history that brought misery and despair to millions. Roosevelt was known for his vision, fearlessness, determination, compassion, unyielding perseverance and undying devotion to his goals. 

Abraham Lincoln: “The 16th president of the United States is also one of the most well-known leaders of all time. He was in office during the American Civil War where he kept the people together and was the only reason that the nation did not break into smaller parts. He also ended slavery in the United States by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. His greatest traits were his determination, persistence, beliefs and courage” – Patrick Alain. 

Mahatma Gandhi: “After completing a law degree in London, the shy attorney became the most important leader behind the Indian freedom struggle against the colonial rule of Great Britain. His policy of non-violence and protest through civil disobedience eventually succeeded when he led his country to freedom in 1947. His main characteristics were resilience, knowledge, people-skills, motivational approach and leading by example” – Patrick Alain. 

These courageous individuals excelled when their high-level leadership qualities driven by their good characters, allowed them to perform effectively under pressure to accomplished their goals. They exercised sound judgement, made tough decisions and eloquently communicated their colossal achievements, securing the support of the masses.  

Business Education Refocusing 

We must teach students in college how to build good character, to give them an edge as leaders in a complex and highly competitive business environment.  

Business Schools’ teaching across the country focus primarily on the techniques, strategies and activities put into action in the management of corporations. Research conducted by the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario, discovered that studies on how to build character is an area frequently overlooked by many Universities.  

Carol Stephenson, a Canadian business executive and former dean of the Ivey Business School elaborates: “Much of what is written, discussed and taught about leadership in business today revolves around how to lead within an organization. There is very little, however, about how to lead yourself or more specifically, how to become a leader of good character.”  

Words of wisdom! “If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 percent of your time leading yourself, your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct.” Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus – Visa International. 

An Outcry for Action 

Sound leadership starts with the good character of an individual. Good character evolves overtime but it must be developed. Institutions of higher education must do their part, by taking more concentrated steps to help develop students into leaders of good character. Individuals in position of power must foster an organizational climate that nurtures good character, as well. 

It is paramount to understand, that the decisions and actions of leaders with good character inspire others to think and act in a way that not only improves the bottom line of organizations, but also contributes to the well-being of institutions, governments and society as a whole. 

Felix E. De Jesus 

Adjunct Professor of Global Management 

Management & Leadership 

Leon Hess Business School at    Monmouth University, New Jersey 

Research revolves around the dynamics and challenges of leading global corporations. 

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