Leadership and Character: Four Steps to Success

There is a quote from the late actor Paul Newman that every new leader should read. It simply states: “if you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character.”

That guy knew what he was talking about.

Too often, new leaders blanch at making the tough decisions for fear of not being liked. They call for a “task force” to evaluate a new idea, making sure everyone has a say in the decision; they quietly hope that the nice but under performing employee will “just quit” so that they don’t have to have that uncomfortable termination conversation; and they let too many off target initiatives die a slow and costly death rather than be the one who shot them down at the get go.

Leaders with character step out in front. They make the tough call knowing full well that someone isn’t going to like it. That’s part of leadership.

We’re not talking about being ruthless. We’re not talking about being an autocrat. We’re talking about standing for something. Having confidence in yourself and in your ideas and in knowing how to translate that into the success of the organization and the success of your employees.

The four keys to achieving this level of leadership:

Get really clear on who you are. Have integrity and be consistent. None of that fence straddling stuff when people are counting on you to make a decision. Listen to people’s ideas, give them voice, but if you know in your gut they are off target, have the confidence to say no. Also, have the confidence to say yes if they are right.

Get over the idea that you are responsible for people’s happiness. You aren’t. You are responsible for their welfare and if you see them heading out to sea in a row boat, it’s your job to get them back to shore before the storm hits. Maybe you did ruin their trip today and they were none too happy about it, but the next time they’ll know to head out in a more sea worthy vessel.
Get real. Yes, there is something to be said about employing the social graces even in business but if you find yourself smiling and glad handing people just so you don’t make waves, think about how you will be perceived in the long haul. You don’t want people wondering whether you really agree with everyone else’s opinions or whether you have no ideas of your own.

Get comfortable standing alone. There’s a reason people jump on politicians for flip flopping. When popular opinion is deafeningly in opposition to your ideas, do you have the strength to stand alone for something that you know is right? Leaders lead and often times it takes time for the rest of the pack to catch up to you.

Embrace your character.


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