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How many of us have worked for, or alongside, an individual who exhibits manipulative, selfish or dishonest tendencies? Have you wondered how it is possible that these individuals climb their way up the corporate ladder and into leadership positions? Do you question their methods? Do you feel comfortable working with them? Do they inspire you?

These questions surface because our instincts about arrogant or abusive managers among us are usually right. While these personalities can find their way into positions of power, they rarely achieve the kind of success in business and personal relations that generates both concrete results and the inspiration needed for others to follow in their footsteps.

Fortunately, true leadership is founded in mutual respect and admiration. A hallmark of great leaders, past and present, is strength of character, which is determined by the principled ways in which they treat others. The positive correlation between the existence of deep character and one's ability to deliver long-term results, whether in military or business pursuits, is based in fact. Character is a critical component to success, and the "return on character" in the business world is real and measurable.

According to Fred Kiel in his TEDx talk, deep character is demonstrated by the presence of certain moral principles that include:


Consistently acting with principles, values and beliefs, keeping promises, being truthful, and standing up for what's right. These traits create an atmosphere of trust.


Admitting fault, taking responsibility for choices and being accountable to others. These behaviors can inspire others to take similar action.


Letting go of personal mistakes and the mistakes of others. This creates an atmosphere where people can innovate freely.


Showing empathy and understanding for others. Compassion helps drive up employee engagement and retains talent.

Kiel's final principle, compassion, is worth a few extra words. Compassion comes from genuinely caring for others, no matter what their individual circumstances or personalities. When I was a Chair for Vistage, we used the term "carefrontational" to describe the use of care and compassion in difficult situations. Leaders who apply the concept of caring to their toughest confrontations are better able to turn a difficult situation into a productive one. It's not always easy to do, but it's a skill that can be developed and perfected over time. By investing in the creation of a caring environment, the return on character will become readily apparent.

Great leaders are the kinds of people for whom others want to work, not the kind of which they are afraid. They create trust by getting personal and in demonstrating vulnerability.

They learn that business success is not determined so much by how much you sell or what you make, but by how you get the best out of others on your team. So remember that character matters, and that there are great rewards, both personal and professional, that come with it.


Larry Hart

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