Why Character Matters to Leadership

character leadershipThis blog is the first in a series of blogs commenting on character traits – particularly positive character traits – and why they are important to leadership. Let’s start with understanding the concept of character. The dictionary definition according to dictionary.com is as follows:

  1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
  2. one such feature or trait; characteristic.
  3. moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character.
  4. qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity: It takes character to face up to a bully.
  5. reputation: a stain on one’s character.

The key concept to glean from the dictionary definition is that the word “character” comes down to an assessment of a person’s features and traits that form an impression or reputation.  A person’s character can be positive or negative depending on their behaviour as it relates to character-based attributes.  We will discuss character attributes in more detail in later blogs.

So, why does character matter when it comes to leadership? One of the key goals of effective leadership is to enable others to act independently once they understand the vision and goals of the leader. The process of enabling independence requires the leader to move from telling “followers” exactly what to do in order to achieve the goal, to a process where “followers” make their own decisions on how to achieve the vision and goal that the leader has articulated.  In other words leaders should ultimately move toward managing the outcome versus “micro-managing” the process used to achieve the outcome.

In order to transition from a leadership style that involves providing specific direction on how to achieve a goal, to a leadership style that involves articulating a vision or outcome and then leaving the how to the follower the leader needs to trust  that the follower will make good decisions. It is not enough that the follower understands the goal or desired outcome, the leader has to be confident that the follower will make good choices with respect to how to achieve the goals/outcome.

This is why character makes a big difference. An individual whose actions exemplify positive character traits is very trustworthy, whereas a person whose actions exemplify questionable character is not trustworthy because it is not clear that this type of person will act in the best interests of the leader when given the ability to act independently. The leader takes a much higher risk  trusting the person of poor character.  Leaders need to be able to mitigate this risk.

Often, leaders will find themselves assessing an individual’s character based on intuition and/or past experience with the individual. Most leaders would like to be sure that the people they lead have a good character, however they are often challenged by relying on poor processes or no process at all for evaluating character. In order to build and maintain high-performing organizations, leaders must embrace a more disciplined approach to assessing character. This is now possible through the use of a psychometric assessment tool called the MERIT Profile Assessment™.  Please click here to find out more about this unique and revolutionary assessment.

In future blogs, I will identify specific behavior traits that are part of good character, how they impact behaviour and performance and why it is important that we assess these traits in the individuals that we work with and lead.

I welcome your feedback. You can connect with me via email or telephone or leave a comment right here on the site.


David Town, CHRP, is a facilitator and coach of leadership and management principles that enable individuals and organizations to build greater leadership competency, resulting in higher performance and higher employee engagement.  David has a particular focus on effectively managing conversations involving confrontation or conflict.  As well, he provides insights and assessment strategies for integrating character competencies into leadership skills resulting in increased trust and reduced risk for leaders.  David is the President of Your Leadership Matters Inc.

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