A Character-Based Leader Leaves a Powerful Legacy

When you look back on your career, how will you gauge your leadership success? Being a leader can be a thankless job. Some days, it’s hard to feel like anything positive is being accomplished, isn’t it?  It can be tempting to think that nobody notices and that your actions don’t really amount to much.

Why is that? It’s because we’re conditioned to “go for the gold.” Think about it – what do we see in the media, hear from motivational speakers and perhaps even our own mentors? Huge, grand gestures are held up as shining examples of leaders who “broke the mold,” “thought outside the box,” and “wrote the next chapter on innovation.”

Here’s the challenge: The Go Big or Go Home meme messes with our heads. It says, “If it’s not a home run, then it’s not really noteworthy.” The truth is, those grand gestures are built on a foundation of smaller, daily choices. None of those quietly made decisions hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal, but they matter every bit as much as the heralded pinnacle of achievement.

I believe if you are a character-based leader, you are making a difference, even if the evidence is sparse on a daily basis. The seeds of your leadership legacy are being planted every day, through the small, seemingly inconsequential choices you make. Those seeds may take months, or even years, to bear fruit. But they are there, ever-growing, taking root and preparing to bloom.

Character-based leaders:

  1. Foster trust – they praise in public and coach in private.
  2. Are humble – they eschew false modesty for the real thing, knowing that they are but one of many who make their organizational world go ‘round.
  3. Operate with integrity – especially in the small, private moments of choice – knowing that the foundation of their character is built there.
  4. Use their hearts to lead and their heads to manage – and understand the difference between the two.
  5. Lead authentically – by having the courage to live their values.
  6. Respect others for who they are – not for whether they “measure up” to an unpublished list of expectations.
  7. Are comfortable in their skin - they don’t need to reinforce their own values by shooting down the values of others’.
  8. Practice “professional intimacy” – the ability to be open to meaningful, emotionally accessible workplace conversations.

I’d love to hear from you – how do you gauge your leadership success? What are the measuring sticks that you use to help know if your leadership career was “worth it”?


Want to know more about character-based leadership? The eight points listed above are drawn from the book The Character-Based Leader, which explores the concept of leading from who you are, not from your position of title or power. As a member of the Lead Change Group community, I contributed a chapter on trust-building to the book and invite you to learn more at characterbasedleader.com.


Photo credit: istockphoto.com


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