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Four Pillars of Character-Driven Leadership

Source | CEO.Com

In an effort to gather hard data to support what many consider to be soft factors, leadership advisor Fred Kiel, author of Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, conducted a seven-year study of more than 100 CEOs, their companies and 8,500 of their employees. Among the statistical evidence is perhaps the most compelling discovery: Leaders exhibiting strong character habits, as opposed to those who show them only half the time, achieve bottom-line success that is five times greater.

It’s a study worthy of attention, as some believe organizational achievement depends wholly on brilliant strategies and business models, with honorable character acting as mere “icing on the cake.” As it turns out, character is crucial to both leadership and organizational success, especially as leaders work to infuse these virtues throughout their organizations. According to Kiel’s work, leaders who attain the greatest financial results have strong character habits involving the following four basic principles:

1. Integrity.

The best leaders strive to always tell the truth and keep their promises, says Kiel. They also don’t pretend to know everything, and actively seek answers from others, recognizing their colleagues are worth listening to and sometimes smarter than they are themselves. Integrity builds valuable trust between these relationships, and proves whether a leader can walk the walk after talking the talk.

The usual definition for understanding integrity—doing the right thing when nobody’s looking—is perhaps too simple. Col. Eric Kail, a former director of military leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, claims two critical components create true integrity: 1) adherence to a moral or ethical principle, and 2) the pursuit of an undiminished state or condition. “Everyone makes mistakes, so being a person of integrity does not mean you haven’t committed a moral or ethical violation, ever,” Kail explains. “It means having the strength of character to learn from those ‘misbehaviors’ and seek continual self-improvement.”

2. Responsibility.

Successful leaders are able to make the hard decisions that keep companies humming along, says Kiel, and they can also admit when they’re wrong.

What’s more, establishing a culture of accountability seems just as important as the work being accomplished. Kiel’s study found an even stronger relationship between organizational effectiveness and characteristics of the senior team than with the CEO—suggesting the CEO’s job is not only to lead well themselves, but also develop a high-performing senior team that can inspire progress across the board. CEOs should work to ensure their team members can adapt and thrive in ever-changing business conditions, remembering management can make or break an organization’s success.

3. Forgiveness.

In addition to coming clean about their own decisions, Kiel says good leaders believe in learning from their mistakes, as well as forgiving others when they fall short. Instead of reprimanding or sweeping people under the rug, these leaders guide and encourage employees in better directions, teaching new skills and helping them to grow from their experiences rather than be crushed by them.

In fact, forgiveness may be the least understood leadership trait in the business, according to Fishbowl CEO David Williams, who specifically warns against processes that have become ingrained in corporate culture that are harmful to morale and employee progression. His advice for companies is to continually evaluate the cost of time and resources but not question the employee’s every move. Grant them the trust and respect you want in return, and give them freedom to create and build on their own.

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