A Crisis of Character - A Book Excerpt

In a post, we shared how the Lead Change Group was incubated by people who wanted to capture the idea of leadership being espoused by a group of leaders in social media and internet channels in the summer and fall of 2009.

The term character-based leadership rose out of this group’s efforts and eventually led to the book, The Character-Based Leader.

In order to provide visitors to the Lead Change Group with the background about how this site came to be, and because much of the information is timeless, we are sharing excerpts from The Character-Based Leader occasionally.

An excerpt from chapter one appears here. An excerpt from chapter two, Why Character-Based Leadership, authored by Chery Gegelman, appears here.

We are pleased to share an excerpt from chapter three, A Crisis of Character, which was authored by Don Shapiro.

A Crisis of Character

When Allan Guei graduated from Compton High School, the star basketball player received a full scholarship to college. A month before graduation, Allan competed in a basketball free throw contest that offered a $40,000 first prize to pay for college. Allan won the contest, but at his graduation ceremony he gave the $40,000 to seven other players who had competed in the same tournament, keeping nothing for himself. He said he already had a scholarship and these other athletes who were struggling financially needed the help to go to college.

For every Allan, there are far too many individuals who don’t do the right thing. Lately, too many of those who have chosen the wrong path have become national or international news. Their lack of leadership and poor choices have harmed tens of millions of people personally and financially.

A Puzzling Contradiction

Clearly, there is more to being a good leader than well-documented techniques, methods and practices. Leadership isn't simply a skill or a body of knowledge that one memorizes. Leadership isn't about a person being given an important title and people simply following that person by virtue of their title. The increasing incidence of bad leadership in families, schools, charitable organizations, churches, research labs, associations, corporations and government cries out for a solution.

As this book will explore, the leadership crisis is really a crisis of character. And that crisis is getting worse by the day. The crisis may appear to be about leaders who are publicly visible, but this crisis isn't just about people in high positions. What’s important to realize here is that individuals who have attained a position of importance come from all of us. Fathers, mothers, cousins, community volunteers, members of congregations, friends, and more are all thrust into leadership roles whether they wanted those roles or not, and those who arrive at positions of importance started from the same place as the rest of us.

How Bad Is The Crisis?

First, it’s important to understand just how bad the problem really is. Although most people are aware of a few individuals in positions of power who have displayed a lack of character and can cite the damage they have perpetrated, this problem is much more pervasive than most people realize. Calling it an epidemic might be considered a stretch, yet there is no question that lack of character, bad leadership and questionable choices are rising at an alarming rate in all areas of society.


Issues of character involving those in the government go beyond the headlines. When you Google “misconduct by government,” it produces 13,700,000 results, and “abuse of public trust by elected officials” produces 1,270,000 results. Thousands of web pages are filled with newsarticles from every US state that talk about city, county and state elected officials along with school boards and other elected bodies all reporting violations of the public trust.

Medical Doctors

Medical doctors are considered one of the most respected professions, yet the incidence of violations of ethics, misconduct and more appear to be higher than what one would expect from a profession that goes by the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. A Google search for “misconduct by doctors” will produce 4,260,000 results. “Doctors losing their medical license” returns 33,600,000 results, though there is significant duplication due to stories that have gone viral. When duplicates from any of these results are eliminated, it still leaves an astounding number of cases in which doctors made bad judgments and displayed bad leadership.


Since the recession, corporations have been under a microscope, with significant blame leveled at Wall Street and companies in the finance, banking and insurance sector. But questionable decisions are not limited to events during the recession or to those at the top. A Google search for “violations of public trust by corporate executives” produced 15,700,000 results such as these two:

  • Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd resigned for submitting false expense reports concerning his relationship with a contractor.
  • David Sokol, rumored to be Warren Buffett's successor, was forced to resign for trading in Lubrizol stock prior to recommending that Berkshire Hathaway purchase the company.

Clergy, Teachers, Parents & More

While the Catholic Priest molestation scandal may be the most well known among religious misconduct, it turns out that violations of the trust that congregations place in the clergy occur in every religion. A Google search of “misconduct by religions” produces 13,500,000 results, while “misconduct by ministers” yields 5,420,000.

In Search Of Character

There are simply too many people in all walks of life and at all levels of authority who are not acting with character. Character starts at home, in school, and through religious institutions. If we are seeing a lapse of character at these levels,is it any wonder that children are growing into adults who lack enough character to become Character-Based Leaders?

Allan is a character-based leader. He leads from who he is, not because of any title or position. In spite of the leadership crisis, more people are actually like Allan than not. People of good character are everywhere. This crisis doesn’t require people in positions of power and importance to solve it.

It Starts at a Young Age

The leadership role in the home, at school, and in the community begins the second we make it a top priority. When we think it’s important to lead, we will. When we believe that leading from good character is critical, we will apply that to ourselves and to those closest to us.

The Leadership Bell Tolls For Thee

We need a lot more leaders like Allan. We need everyone to step up to the plate and to lead from positions of character regardless of who they are, where they are, or what they’re doing. This is how we solve the leadership crisis, because leadership isn’t about one’s title or position… it’s about who we are inside.

Leadership is all about character. No single book, including this one, can offer all the answers. It is the hope of the Lead Change Group and all those who volunteered to collaborate on this effort that, by shining a spotlight on the heart of the issue, we might ignite a revolution. If enough people who seriously care about the future can, through their own efforts and explorations, put more focus on character itself… who we are as people and how we develop that in others… we can start a revolution that changes our world for the better.

Note, this post is an edited excerpt of The Character-Based Leader. Modifications have been made due to space constraints. To order a copy of the book, please visit the Character Based Leader page on Amazon.

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