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Character – The Foundation of Great Leadership

Character – The Foundation of Great Leadership

English is a funny language. There is a vast difference between being a character and showing character. When we describe a person as “a real character,” we generally mean they are a bit quirky or unusual, perhaps with very distinctive mannerisms or attributes. In this use, it’s not necessarily a term we would associate with being a leader.

Showing character, however, is a foundational skill for leadership. Leaders show their character when they are put to the test when there is work to be done and goals to achieve. Great leaders show their character when there are difficult decisions to be made. As I explain in this article, leaders with character have courage in their convictions; they act with authenticity, accountability, and integrity.

Did you know that Character can be traced back to the Greek charassein, meaning “to sharpen, cut in furrows, or engrave.” This word gave the Greeks charaktēr, a noun meaning “mark, distinctive quality” (a meaning that was shared by the Latin character).

Identifying and living your values

It takes considered effort to come clear with yourself about your values. It takes time to explore your own understanding of what we carry so deeply inside. If someone asks you about your values, you should know what they are and explain them without taking time to think.

Being familiar with your values lets you know what kind of person you truly are. Knowing what kind of person you are makes it easier to move if you have a vision for who you want to be. It’s also important to recognise that values really do change over time. Your experiences and learnings can inform and gently reshape those values- so it pays to check in regularly.

Your values determine your character, you character determines your value. – James Kerr

Ethical Decision Making

Your decisions can impact others. Decisions need to be made every day, and as a leader, a vast majority of the decisions you need to make will involve other people. Following on from this, just about any decision that involves someone else will include ethics. In practice for you, this means considering the competing (and often very complex) social, economic, legal, environmental, and personal factors or influences relevant to the decision.

Situations that involve many stakeholders and different personalities can mean a multitude of different perspectives about what is right and what is wrong. The people you are leading may have very different personal values from your own.

Making an ethical decision means considering all the possible actions or alternatives and choosing the option most aligned with your values and beliefs. It also means not imposing your understanding of what is right on others but instead listening carefully and striving to be open to the perspectives of the people around you.

Authentic Leadership

The decisions you make throughout your career and your lifetime will build up your character. Regularly being required to make tough ethical decisions in line with your values commits you to your path. Your character forms are influenced by and become crystallised through tough decisions.

Authentic decisions are based on your own deliberate, self-aware, and honest assessment of a situation. By repeating the practice of decision-making, by knowing yourself and making decisions congruent with your character, you only enhance your understanding of what is right and wrong.

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Trust and Integrity

Trust is formed in authenticity. When you are a trustworthy leader, you are sincere in your actions, words, and decision-making. When the people around you know and understand your values and they see you as an authentic leader, they will likely see you as trustworthy.

The same goes for integrity. When other people recognise you and have seen you operate in a reliable, predictable and consistent way, they will associate these actions with integrity. Leaders who act with integrity are deeply aware of themselves, especially with other people.


A leadership attitude involves being accountable. It is pivotal you are accountable for your attitude and leadership. Take every opportunity to demonstrate that you do what you believe is right, regardless of the consequences.

It would help if you also gave others accountability for their own choices by mentoring and demonstrating how being accountable to yourself is done. Honour your relationships with others and keep their confidence. The quickest way to lose someone’s trust is to let them down.

Role modelling

The best way to live as a leader is to constantly show up for the role and be a role model. This means regularly demonstrating that you “practice what you preach” and showcasing examples of your living attitudes and values.

Character is what people understand; it is what they see and what they will believe. As Miles Munro observes: “No matter what type of leader you are or how widespread your influence, you face personal temptations, challenges, and stresses. And only a foundation of character will sustain you and your leadership.”

Are you looking to leap into a leadership role or have just recently stepped up within your organisation? At LeadershipHQ, we offer leadership development and support, including coaching and mentoring to develop character and confidence. Our Leadership Development programs suit Executives, Middle Management, Emerging, and Frontline Leaders across all industries and sectors. We can help you discover what you stand for and what type of leader you want to be.

Reach out to the team LeadershipHQ anytime to help you create great leaders, leadership, teams and cultures! We are committed and passionate about helping you rock!

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By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And Outstanding Leadership Awards, Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO, Mum And Award Winning Author.