April 4, 2012

By Jim Leverette

All companies are looking for leaders, but the essence of leadership is hard to define, and divining who is a leader and who isn’t is more art than science.

Here is one of the key “Table Stakes of Leadership” — And what to look for on — CHARACTER

Successful leaders set the example for all to follow. The way a leader conducts themselves is more important than any instructions they may give.

The higher the leader advances, the less dependent they are on anything other than just being themselves. Character doesn’t need props. Character is about showing up and being authentic and genuine in every situation. This trait is unique to successful leaders and helps them to connect powerfully on a personal level with the people they work with, regardless of background or station in life.

There are many metaphors of “character” and integrity and trust are the most critical. Regardless of function or the prevailing market conditions, this intangible quality of “character” separates the successful leaders from the rest of the crowd.

As we’ve seen, some executives easily blur the lines of right and wrong in business. But leaders with character have a high ethical code that governs their behavior. They’re the ones the rest of the team look to when moral order breaks down or the fog of ambiguity rolls in.

Successful leaders build and establish trust through a series of small accomplishments while working closely with the team. This approach instills confidence in the team and allows everyone to see one another’s true colors. The success achieved while working together forms a strong bond. It hardens the steel of their determination to overcome obstacles that invariably arise when the leader engages them to take on stretch goals and increasingly bigger challenges.

Successful leaders are down-to-earth and consistent in all their interactions with members of the team. They remove any doubts regarding who they really are and what working with them is like. Character is established and re-enforced through consistency in how a leader “shows up” in every situation. Character is about “consistency,” but not about “status quo”. Character is about being open, honest, and candid — and is reflected in composure, clarity, respect, integrity and results. However, character is not a popularity contest. People do not have to like the leader. But successful leaders that honestly display these character traits will earn the team’s respect and they will help the leader to fulfill their responsibilities of leadership.

Here is One Thought to consider on “Character” when hiring for a key leadership role:

What to look for — Executives with character are poised and never out of control in the face of challenge or uncertainty. They use “straight talk” on how they plan to keep and honor promises.

Team members can act alone, but leaders cannot. Is there unity or separateness? Look for examples of how they have worked with and through people to achieve results.

How a leader speaks is often more telling than what he or she says. Successful leaders do not use jargon, they speak in terms everyone on the management team can understand and can build consensus across the enterprise. Listen for examples using, “we did” or mutually guided, we adopted, we assumed, we made, we chose, we cultivated etc.

Explore whether the chemistry is right and if their character and leadership style fits the culture of your organization.

What type of example do they seek to set, and how do they set it? What time do they arrive at the office? When do they leave? Are they still part of production or have they removed themselves from the performance goals their subordinates are expected to achieve?

Jim R. Leverette is President of Randall James Monroe, Inc. Leverette has successfully conducted executive search assignments for some of the most respected business organizations in the world. Roles include C-Level executives and their direct reports in all functional areas. Leverette is an expert in executive search and selection and specializes in making the leadership, culture and chemistry fit. Leverette’s core strength is in finding precisely the right leader to address specific business challenges for each client company represented.


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