By Paulette Glasgow
“Character,” Lincoln noted, “is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it, and the tree is the real thing.” There are many qualities we look for in a leader: honesty, integrity but most importantly, character.
Why is it that successful leaders process these qualities? Could it be by their actions they create a public trust? A trust that is built and maintained by the decisions they make and the commitments they keep.
It’s written, “look well to the character of those you elect and raise to office and places of trust.”
We are entering what I affectionately call the “silly season.” For the next few months our phones will ring non-stop and our mail boxes will overflow with mailers all praising the unique qualities of a single individual and why we should “raise them to office.”
How do we judge the uniqueness of these individuals? Is there a score card or evaluation sheet we use? What qualities should a leader possess?
A leader who makes promises and keeps their word not only shows honesty but character. The old expression that you not only talk the talk but walk the walk applies here. A leader who mouths empty headed promises with no intention of following through demonstrates poor character.
Leaders should have a thirst for wanting to know all they can about an issue. In a word, leaders should possess intellectual curiosity. They don’t stall, avoid or beat around the bush when faced with an issue. They look into the issue and come up with a solution benefiting everyone. A leader with intellectual curiosity will always find a solution to a problem. An individual lacking in curiosity not only demonstrates their failure to comprehend the problem but by their actions could worsen the problem by making a poor decision.
Truthfully explaining yourself is a sign of character because the “pursuit of truth is a journey and not always a resting place.” A leader who is truthful explaining why they made a decision not only displays character but forms a public trust. In doing so the leader conveys that although there may be a difference of opinion, the leader will always be truthful in expressing that difference and not look for the politically correct answer.
Coupled with truthfully explaining yourself and intellectual curiosity is being decisive. A good leader should give you a yes or no answer and back that decision up with concrete facts. They shouldn’t delay in giving you an answer. When faced with a crisis, indecision only compounds the problem and speaks volumes with regard to character.
Growing up I was always told two things: there are no stupid questions and there’s nothing wrong with saying I don’t know or understand. Just like the pursuit of truth, a leader will pursue understanding. A poor leader will pretend to understand as a way of avoiding an issue or giving you an answer. Having the moral character to say “I don’t know” isn’t a flaw.
Everyone makes mistakes, but how you accept blame speaks volumes with regard to your character. Part of leadership is displaying moral character, and part of moral character is admitting when you’re wrong. Shifting blame, or blaming others for your poor decisions, only demonstrates poor leadership.
Huck Finn said it best, “Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when they know better.” An individual with ethical behavior lives and displays that behavior in everything they do and say. Every day we read about leaders who demonstrate a lapse not only of ethical behavior but of honesty and integrity. There’s no room for unethical behavior in leadership. An individual lacking in ethical behavior is someone we don’t need.
It’s written “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Regarding leadership there’s nothing wrong with being bipartisan, for in being bipartisan you show character. We read of too many individuals who put party first rather than those they serve. Wanting to work with someone else to resolve an issue isn’t a minus, it’s a plus.
Colossians 3 notes “Clothe yourself with compassion, humility and patience.” Traits like humility, compassion and empathy can be easily overlooked when it comes to character, but it’s very important we find these qualities in our leaders.
This election year we are being asked to make important decisions. Decisions that will affect not only our lives but our livelihoods. In the past we’ve made some poor decisions, but fortunately every so often we are given the opportunity for a “do over.” This is the year we are given that do over. We must choose wisely. For those already in office, asking for our support, we must judge them by their record, for those running for office, we must choose those who understand that as a leader your main responsible is to serve the people.
Character is defined by what we do when we think no one is looking. Character is revealed when pressure is applied.
Character is how we treat those who can do nothing for us. Yes, Mr. Lincoln, character is a tree, because if you have character you stand tall for a long time.