Leadership Character: The Essence of Leadership
Leadership Character is comprised of values, characteristics, and clarity of purpose that determines what one wants to be as a leader. It is expressed in the consistency of behavior–the degree to which a leader’s actions match his or her words.
Our research has identified 18 individual Character factors that have been linked to leadership success. Wilson Learning categorizes these into three principal components: Personal Character, Social Character, and Organizational Character. Effective leaders demonstrate a balance of all three components as core values. Leadership Character is expressed differently in different leadership positions, but is always a critical element of effective leadership.
Form: The Four Roles of Leadership
While Leadership Character is the foundation of effective leadership, it alone is not sufficient. Unless this foundation is supplemented by the skills and knowledge required to execute on those values and principles, the leader fails to produce the tangible results necessary for creating organizational success.
Based on both in-depth research and practical experience, we have found there are a number of skills required to execute effective leadership. These skills, which comprise the Form aspect of leadership, can be organized into four core roles that each leader must fulfill:
- The Visionary role focuses on setting direction by translating strategy into work group requirements.
- The Tactician role ensures activity toward that vision, achieving results by effectively planning work, delegating responsibility, and reviewing performance.
- The Facilitator role makes sure everyone is appropriately involved, creating an environment of collaboration and partnership to ensure effective working relationships.
- The Contributor role ensures the leader’s own talents, experiences, and abilities are being applied to create organizational success.
These four roles define the seemingly contradictory responsibilities of a leader–often considered the greatest challenge of leadership. Being a great leader means being able to effectively balance these four roles and successfully integrate them with Leadership Character.
Profiles of Leadership
All leaders, regardless of level, need to fulfill all four roles. But the relative importance of each role will vary, depending on the specific responsibilities of that leader. As described in “Understanding Leadership Development: Integrating Essence and Form,” most organizations develop leaders based upon three common levels:
- First-level leaders–Managers and supervisors of individual contributors
- Mid-level leaders–Managers of departments or functions, managers of managers
- Executive leaders–Executives responsible for the overall leadership and culture of the organization
First-level leaders are often making a difficult transition from being an individual contributor responsible only for their own performance to being a leader who adds value by getting work done through others.
To accomplish this transition–and ensure sustained success–a new first-level leader must quickly acquire the necessary Leadership Survival Skills. These survival skills are primarily found in the Tactician and Contributor roles, given the first-level leader’s responsibility for ensuring tasks are completed and objectives met. This requires the first-level leader to ensure all employees are adding value, while also making decisions that are in the work group’s best interests. While these leaders will need to effectively translate organizational strategy into day-to-day work group objectives–and will occasionally have to lead team efforts–most of their time is spent on the tactical aspects of “getting the job done.”
While these survival skills occupy much of the development focus, these first-level leaders are also going through an Essence transformation. A first-level leader needs to establish what he/she wants to be as a leader–what we call Establishing Leadership Credibility. First-level leaders must understand how their character affects the performance of their work group in order to successfully transition their source of credibility from technical expertise to leadership.
As leaders move into mid-level leadership, their focus shifts from one-to-one survival skills to more one-to-group development skills. This focus on what we call Growth Skills means mid-level leaders require moderate to strong skills in all four leadership roles. Mid-level leaders are expected to execute on strategy, even though they may not have been involved in the actual formation of that strategy. They often need to work with and influence peers over whom they have no authority and confront interpersonal conflict within the organization. Mid-level leaders also require strong tactical skills as they manage other managers in accomplishing group objectives. They are also often called upon to contribute their unique talents to solving functionally specific problems or making critical decisions. Without a doubt, mid-level leaders wear many hats.
The role of Essence also grows in mid-level leadership. While mid-level leaders do need to add to the foundational skills developed as first-level leaders, their need for character development (Essence) expands significantly. If the Essence transition for first-level leaders is to Establish Leadership Credibility, the Essence transition for mid-level leaders is to become a Purpose- and Values-Centered Leader.
When mid-level leaders develop Purpose- and Value-Centered Leadership Essence, depth of character becomes more important than appearance of power. They take action based on values, not on short-term gains. Success is measured by their contributions to others, not title or salary. And life is lived on purpose, not on approval from others.
As leaders reach the executive level, the need for additional skills shifts more toward organization-level strategic skills. The primary roles of the executive leader are Visionary and Facilitator, as these leaders are expected to drive change, create a vision for the organization’s future, and develop strategies for achieving that vision. To accomplish this, executive leaders need strong Facilitator skills to get diverse functions and employee groups working together toward a shared positive future.
The Tactician skills inherent to this level are usually limited to supporting functional managers’ tactical leadership efforts, whereas Contributor skills are typically reserved for more critical situations. Executive-level leaders who spend a lot of time in Tactician and Contributor roles are not viewed as being effective because they clearly have not sufficiently developed their next line of managers.
As one would expect, the core of effective executive leadership is Essence. We refer to this as Culture-Centered Leadership because the responsibilities shift to elements that shape organizational culture–the consistency of communication and action, integrity and transparency, and being the example for other leaders and employees to follow.