Not long ago I was speaking on the topic of leadership to a group of very good, very experienced leaders. I always laugh a little bit to myself when I am asked to speak to groups of military leaders on a topic that they have invested their lives to understand. What I try to do though, and what makes these conversations unique, is to define leadership in a way that gives a different perspective than these proven and positional leaders are accustomed to. Instead of dealing with the “how to”, I do my best to answer the “why?”.
As well as that approach is received, inevitably the discussion does come back to “how?”. Leaders are people of action and after learning WHY they do what they do, they struggle until they understand WHAT they are supposed to do. While I do feel that the WHY drives the WHAT, lists are easy to follow and provide actionable steps. Unfortunately I don’t think my answer to “what should I do as a leader?” is always very satisfactory. My answer?
Don’t do leadership. Be a Leader!
You can see why my answer is not very well received. That is a sincere answer though. I feel like too much emphasis is put on DOING when we should focus on BEING. If we are, we will do.
So a better question is, “How can I BE a leader?”
And to that I would say, focus on the Character of Leadership and you will BE a leader that others want to follow.
Last year I wrote a blog post answering the question, “What is Character?” You can read that here.
Today, instead of addressing Character specifically, I would like to share what I believe are the seven character elements that a Leader should work to build in his life.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Dictionary.com defines Character this way: Character is the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
Character is what makes you, you. The real you not the image that you want everyone to see.
So what are the seven Character elements that you need to build into your life if you want to be a real leader?
I find these seven traits in the New Testament book of 2 Peter 1:5-8:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I love that we get this from Peter because if there was ever a man in the Bible that had to learn about character the hard way, it was Peter. This was the guy that said he would give his life for Jesus and then denied even knowing Him! Later in his life it seems like Peter understood the importance of character as he taught that these elements need to be added to a life serious about following God.
What is the Character of Leadership?
Courage, resolve, and moral excellence. This is doing what is right because it is right, as defined by God, whether anyone acknowledges it or not.
Understanding, and wisdom. Taking the time to truly understand people and situations before acting and then having the wisdom to know how to appropriately respond. This comes through listening, asking questions and asking God for wisdom. (James 1:5)
Self-control and discipline. Making decisions and then acting based on principle and not emotion. Although emotion is a part of being human, temperance refuses to allow emotion to drive actions.
Steadfast and unwavering. Committed to seeing commitments and projects through to the end regardless of the difficulty encountered along the way.
Living a life that reflects who God is and His working in our lives.
6. Brotherly Kindness
Maintaining quality relationships with like-minded individuals. Treating others as you would like to be treated.
Selflessness. Making and following through on a decision to live for others. Using your resources, opportunities and abilities for the good of others.
If we will focus on BEING a person of character, then leadership will flow from who we are instead of what we do. Stop focusing on doing leadership and focus instead on being a leader. How? By building a life on the principles that make the Character of a Leader.