“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” ~ John Wooden
[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.” In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration. Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results. In this post, we will further explore the second of our Seven Cs – Character.]
Throughout the leadership literature, there is an emphasis on the leader serving as a role model for followers. A leader cannot be viewed as a role model; however, if they do not possess character. Character refers to the integrity of the leader. It means others view them as credible and possessing moral authority.
Kouzes and Posner (2006) refer to this principle as “Model the Way” and describe it as leaders being “clear about their personal values and beliefs” (p. 3). They go on to encourage leaders to “keep people and projects on course by behaving consistently with these values and setting an example for how they expect others to act” (p.3). Being clear about one’s own values and setting an example for how others should act paves the way for leaders to be champions for the organization’s values.
Not only is a leader responsible for developing his or her own character, he or she is also responsible for helping to develop the character of his or her team and organization. According to Johnson (2012), “Leaders are the ethics officers of their organizations, casting light or shadow in large part through the example they set” (p. 318). Essentially, leaders need to serve as ethical role models to their followers, and they need to be champions of the ethical decision-making process. This means leaders must internalize the ethical climate they promote by embodying the organization’s values and then hold others accountable to those values. Doing so requires rewarding those who act ethically and punishing those who do not—regardless of the results from that employee’s behavior. Leaders must walk the ethical talk.
The idea of leaders serving as role models is also especially prominent in the transformational leadership theory as it closely aligns with the “idealized influence” aspect of transformational leadership. Idealized influence refers to transformational leaders’ ability to live by standards and values that allow followers to view them as role models. “They [transformational leaders] are deeply respected by followers who usually place a great deal of trust in them” (Powell, 2011, p. 177).
Finally, the leader’s character is important because it affects how well others respond to the leader’s attempts to cast a vision and instigate change. For example, renowned change expert, John Kotter (1995), states that in order to facilitate change, leaders must embody the change and serve as role models for the rest of the organization. “Communication comes in both words and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form” (p. 6). He then goes on to emphasize the importance of leaders communicating the change vision “in deed” because, “nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with their words” (p. 6). Similarly, Roger Gill (2003) also emphasizes the importance of leaders serving as role models when facilitating change. Gill writes, “In any change process, the change champions – leaders – must be credible,” and he then goes on to define credibility as being perceived by others as honest and competent (p. 316).
It is this link between character and change that sets the stage for the next or third C, Catalyst.
- Gill R., (2003). Change management or change leadership. Journal of Change Management 3(4), 307-318.
- Johnson, C.E. (2012). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
- Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
- Powell, G. N. (2011). The gender and leadership wars. Organizational Dynamics, 40, 1-9.