Over the next nine days, I plan to blog about nine ingredients that cannot be separated from quality leadership. Like Siamese twins joined at the hip, these qualities are a natural part of healthy leaders’ lives. Like salt and pepper or ketchup and mustard—they just go together. Any leader without them is incomplete or unhealthy. Since my blog posts are about leading the next generation, I’m hopeful these short articles will help you deepen your effectiveness as a leader, parent, coach or teacher.
Let me begin with the component of character. The word has become vogue, but it’s meaning has become vague. In short, character is simply self-leadership. Strong character is the ability to do what is right—even when I don’t feel like it. The word character comes from an ancient Greek verb that means “to engrave” and its related meaning “mark” or “distinctive quality.” It represents who I really am on the inside. Not my image or reputation but who I am in reality. We can’t separate it from our leadership. General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “The main ingredient of good leadership is good character. This is because leadership involves conduct and conduct is determined by values.”
What Schwarzkopf meant is this: our character will surface when facing challenging situations. Our self-disciple (or lack thereof), our emotional security (or lack thereof), our values and ethics (or lack thereof) and our sense of identity all come out in the day-to-day grind. If a leader has not developed robust character, he or she will soon reveal they are ill-equipped to lead during tough times. Respect from others diminishes. Gossip rises. Momentum decreases. Division increases. Why? Because leadership operates on the basis of trust. People will follow you only as far as they trust you. (Just ask any U.S. president who, in a time of unpopularity, finds his party members distancing themselves from him).
When commenting on character, General Schwarzkopf summarized his thoughts by saying: “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one—be without strategy.”
So, here are my questions for you as you lead the next generation:
1. Do others trust you enough to submit even when they don’t understand the situation?
2. Do they follow even when they disagree with you because they respect you?
3. Does robust character and integrity describe your team, class, youth group or family?
4. Are you proud or ashamed when those who follow you emulate your conduct?