Three Promises of Character-Based Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

In our group, we’ve had a lot of conversation about character-based leadership.  This is the second post in a series on character-based leadership.  The first was Sources of Leadership.

What result does character-based leadership promise? What makes our type of leadership different?

So I thought about the question for a few minutes. Quickly, I thought of 3 promises of character-based leadership.

Promise 1: Engaged team members – Either team members are growing and contributing or the leader is helping them discover the disconnect to either become accountable or recognize the need to find another place to contribute.  Relationships with team members are built on mutual respect. Leaders respect each member’s contribution and serve them to insure each member’s success as a contributor to an overall goal greater than the sum of individual contributions.

Promise 2: Satisfied stakeholders – expectations are managed because integrity and transparency are valued creating trust between leadership and customers, vendors, and partners.  Everyone doesn’t necessarily get totally satisfied in the short-run but, because of the high level of trust, sacrifices are accounted for and everyone is treated fairly

Promise 3: Sustainable relationships – The goals pursued by teams with character truly benefit their intended customers. Customers derive benefit in excess of their cost and can therefore fairly reward the team for their achievement, and the organization can fairly reward each member according to their individual contribution.  Each party wins and is therefore incented to sustain the relationship.

I’m sure there are more?  What would you add?  The promise of character-based leadership is just one of the topics we will tackle at LeaderPalooza 2010 February 19 and 20, 2010 at the Hilton Airport Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  We’re considering ideas like these because we accept our share of responsibility for the crisis of leadership in our world today and we want to do something about it.  Will you join us?  Even if you can’t attend, please comment below and add your contribution. Our world needs character-based leaders now more than anytime in recent history.  Will you to join the effort?  Will you answer the call?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Wally Bock  |  04 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Excellent points, Mike. Let’s remember, too, that what you describe are “promises” and need to be turned into results.

Mike Henry  |  06 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Actually the results are a given. No results – no leadership.

David Locke  |  04 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Sorry, but character-based leadership is just an attempt to limit how the leader can be. Leadership, in general, can produce the same results without whatever the hell character is.

Mike Henry  |  04 Feb 2010  |  Reply

David, thanks for the honest comment. I agree that “character” can be difficult to define, but in the post Sources of Leadership I explained that I define it as leadership that originates from who you are rather than what rank you claim. Leaders who get their authority from their followers almost always produce greater results that those who just lead from the strength of position or power.

Doug Crandall  |  05 Feb 2010  | 

Gracious reply to a somewhat odd comment. Well done.

JakeHillman  |  05 Feb 2010  | 

Awesome point. I have seen too many “leaders” who lead from his or her position or title, not from a true sense of leadership. This is where I really started hating position titles. While I understand that they are needed, people tend to place way too much clout in their name tag, not in what it means to be a true leader. I also think that these types of leaders have a “do as I say” mentality, instead of “do as I do” leadership, which is a fine character trait.

maryp  |  06 Feb 2010  |  Reply

David is correct. Character is not a definition of attributes. One can say the leadership character of Hitler, allowed him to bring a continent to its knees. Leadership Character is a way of saying the attributes an individual uses to lead.

One can say life builds character, I prefer to think that life reveals it.. So as Mike states it is Leadership that emantes from who you are and the values you hold dear as a person.

RaymondTaylor  |  07 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Leaders without character can achieve results. However, Mike’s 3rd promise of leadership, sustainable relationships, cannot be achieved without character. You only need to read the headlines to see leaders, with relatively short term success, tumble from the exposure of their lack of character.

David Jackson  |  08 Feb 2010  |  Reply

“…produce the same results…”
That is only true if you define results very narrowly.

Mike Henry Sr.  |  08 Feb 2010  | 

David, I understand. One thing I commonly fail to do is clarify the meaning of words. My intention was narrow. In fact, I posted Deliver on the Promises to clarify.

Thanks, Mike…

Steve Petzer  |  05 Feb 2010  |  Reply

A true leader that leads from who they are will establish an environment where Truth, Humility and Righteousness will prevail.
– Truth will set people free from the bondage of misinformation
– Humility will create a culture of serving one another
– Righteousness will bring justice because things are being done right
However, in my opinion it all starts with being true to one’s own calling (purpose). Purpose driven leaders will by nature be character-based leaders providing they remain true to their calling.

Mike Henry  |  05 Feb 2010  |  Reply

I agree in the best case. But I’ve found myself in positions that were not aligned with my “purpose.” Haven’t you? Maybe our calling is to be character-based leaders whether we’re in a bad job or a good one… Thanks for the great comment, Steve.

Steve Petzer  |  07 Feb 2010  | 

True, it’s almost the same as the function of a project manager. The project never defines his purpose or function or calling as a project manager or leader in this instance. So also will true leaders find themselves involved in ‘projects’ that may have nothing to do with their personal purpose. Their calling as a leader however and their own character traits is what will set them apart as a leader in all circumstances.

Leaders will find themselves in a position where they are purposed to salvage someone else’s bad ‘project’. :)

J. Michael Thurman  |  05 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the post, Mike.

Character IS about WHO the leader is. It’s not personality. It is integrity, honesty, whether or not she cares about her people as people (as opposed to factors of production), and so many more intangibles.

I’ve worked for leaders who lacked integrity but had plenty of Drill Instructor. I try to sniff those out at the interview, now. In cases where that hasn’t been possible, I have worked to “lead up” while looking for an exit. The character of the leader and the tribe is more important than the paycheck.

Regarding purpose… Finding that position that aligns with purpose seems to be like finding a golden needle in a haystack. Mike, I think you’re on to something important with your last comment. Character isn’t displayed only response to the good times, but is also, maybe even primarily, displayed in response to the bad.

How do you respond with character is “less than ideal” situations?

.-= J. Michael Thurman´s last blog ..7 Reasons to Walk Down That Aisle… and Forgive =-.

Mike Henry Sr.  |  06 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Michael, thanks for the comment. The reason why integrity is so important to us is because in the good times, we can’t see what’s on the inside of someone. That’s why we’re so surprised and disappointed when someone fails to live up to our expectations (like Tiger Woods). Often the good times are when we become weak. I think someone once said that success tests character, hardship proves it.

.-= Mike Henry Sr.´s last blog ..Three Promises of Character-Based Leadership =-.

peter Lanc  |  05 Feb 2010  |  Reply

love the blog. I can think of at least one
1. ask yourself what shadow do you cast and is it consistent and do you walk in your won shadow
2. Promise of integrity and trust with out question

all the best peter

Mike Henry  |  05 Feb 2010  |  Reply

You’ve actually hit on a slant I didn’t take: what the personal benefits of character-based leadership or being a person of character are. You’re quite right. Many times we underestimate the lack of peace that comes from how our subconscious knows we’re not what we say we are. That internal peace is strength. You can fake it, but you can’t fake the peace that results.

Lee Wise  |  06 Feb 2010  |  Reply


I think I would include in point one — or possibly add — something to the effect of “engaged and motivated” team members.

In a healthy, trust based relationship where not only the character is trusted but the related competency level as well, the atmosphere can be motivational. Yes, that would be a part of being “engaged” factor, but that was the first thing I thought of so I simply paused enough to write it down.

Motivated How?

To carry one’s load as best as possible.
To keep on advancing in area of responsibility.
To support and encourage team members.
To speak well of others on the team.

That’s it. Enjoy the day,


Mike Henry  |  06 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Lee. I appreciate the extension / clarification.


Steve Petzer  |  07 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Question: When it comes to competency or specific skills and specifically in view of Lee’s comment.How important would it be for a leader to know when to lead and when not to lead?

Mike Henry  |  07 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Great question. I’d be interested to hear other people’s responses to that too. How about posting on the Facebook page or as a LinkedIn discussion?

Susan Steinbrecher  |  07 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Great discussion; thanks for getting this rolling, Mike. I’d like to suggest another promise or defining quality of character-based leadership — commitment to personal growth. Those who are willing to do some soul searching and take responsibility for their actions, thereby showing humility, often gain tremendous respect and valuable self-knowledge from their associates. Once an understanding of “knowing thyself” is established, you can begin to master the art of leading yourself and therefore will model a way for your associates to do the same. Self reflection takes courage – and I believe courage is a foundational trait of what we call “character-based” leadership. These are the leaders who put heart into their practice rather than seeking outward recognition as a leader.

Mike Henry  |  07 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Great addition Susan. Thanks. I knew there were more.

Kay Augustine  |  09 Feb 2010  |  Reply

I love this discussion! I’m working on my doctorate in Education Leadership and am enjoying the emerging emphasis on character in leadership as an important theme and topic. I’ve been conducting training on character development for communities, schools and non-profit organizations throughout the country for the last 13 years. The one thing most adults forget is that you can’t develop character in young people or your employees if you haven’t invested in reflecting on and developing your own first. Modeling that you are worthy of trust and respect; showing that you accept not only a personal responsibility but a collective responsibility to the whole, while being fair and exhibiting a strong penchant for authentic compassion is vital to establishing a thriving work (or school or home) environment.

I love the term “moral courage”–the absolute basic ingredient for living in today’s society–having the courage to do the right thing even when it isn’t easy or isn’t in our own best interest.

I also believe that a key to being a leader is knowing how to “lead from behind”–you never stop leading, but you reposition yourself to support, encourage and nurture the leadership of others and let go of the “out front” position. I personally experienced this empowerment from a dear mentor and have used the technique with both colleagues and youth. I believe it is important that we teach this as a leadership technique as it is the way we grow and develop future leaders and leave our personal, professional and organizational legacies.

Thanks for the forum for discussion!

Mike Henry  |  09 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Kay, thanks for the great comment. You added at least two great ideas for future posts: you can’t teach character you don’t have, and the whole art of leading from behind. I also appreciate the encouragement about moral courage. “Right” seems to get harder and harder to define. Thanks for contributing those much needed additions.

Join The Conversation