If you google the characteristics of a good leader, you’ll find a myriad articles, opinions and dissertations on leaders and leadership. Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written on the topic. I searched LinkedIn and found 607 course listings pertaining to leadership. In other words, there is a ton of stuff out there about leadership.

So “Why” you might ask would I attempt to add anything to volumes of information, opinions and discourse on the topic? Maybe because it’s more important today that it has ever been, and I’m doing it as an exercise in self-examination. 

I wanted to create a guide for myself that would help me evaluate how I personally deal with issues pertaining to leading my team, and my family in daily life, so I don’t find myself exhibiting any of the characteristics that get under my skin when looking at others.

It’s easy to throw stones at others to make us feel better about ourselves and who we are as leaders. It’s quite another task to self-evaluate and contemplate how we approach the critical role we play as leaders.

I want to warn you up front that if you are looking for defined answers, concrete facts or a groundbreaking thesis on leadership you’re probably in the wrong place. What you will find is a series of questions that I asked myself, and will continue to ask, as long as I am the head of an organization of people who look to me for direction, guidance and yes, leadership.

One of the key factors I wanted to deal with right up front was whether my core values and ethics were or are transactional. Transactional ethics seem to be widely accepted by a large portion of the population now. Many of us today justify behaviors (that used to be widely rejected) when they align with just part of our belief systems if we can acquire a “net gain” from that support.

Every resource you’ll find on leadership ranks honesty and integrity toward the top of the list of the most important traits of a good leader. The question, however, is whether ethics, core values and integrity are absolutes, or can they vary depending on circumstance or by transaction?

To answer that question, it’s important to have a definition of each of those that can be constantly referenced and that become a part of who you are as a person or an organization.

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Here are the definitions I use when thinking about core values, ethics and integrity.

Core Values– the beliefs that guide a person or organizations’ actions. Examples of positive core values are respect, integrity, responsibility and honesty. (The bad thing about this definition is that it leaves open the possibility that your core values are based on lies, deception and selfishness..)

photo by Jamie Street:unsplash

Ethics– moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity[1]. In this case I believe moral principles include integrity, trust worthiness, dependability, respect, responsibility and service to others

Integrity– the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles[2]

Today it seems that many people can find justification for making choices that conflict with what they say their core values or beliefs are, in order to gain an advantage of some kind.  In my mind, this cannot be explained as just making a compromise. When parties can reach an agreement or a settle a dispute by each side making some concession, that is a compromise. The concession should never include substituting one core value for another or by diminishing one in order to hold true to another. Core values and ethics should never conflict with each other or they aren’t really core values (unless yours are the negative ones mentioned above).

Most of us have an innate understanding of what we think are our core values and ethics. However, relying on that innate understanding may at times allow us to stray from them when we find ourselves making decisions about business, politics and even personal relationships.

I’ve written mine down and put the list in my wallet as a reminder of what I want to be guided by. The sheer act of documenting them and carrying them helps me resist the temptation to alter my approach based on the situation or transaction.

Be Honest   An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips- Proverbs 24:26  

Be Kind     Kindness makes you the most beautiful person in the world, no matter what you look like.-anonymous

Be Trustworthy “Keep your promises and be consistent. Be the kind of person others can trust.”– Roy T. Bennett

Be Truthful    Truth never damages a cause that is just- Gandhi

Don’t Judge     Judge not lest ye be judged   Matthew 7   

Be Loving       Love one another – Jesus Christ

Be Generous– always err on the side of generosity “You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have a servant’s heart   Good leaders must first become good servants- Robert K. Greenleaf

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Proverbs 27:19ESV As in water, face reflects face, and the heart of man, reflects the man.

Photo by engin akyurt : Unsplash

Ok, so here are the questions I ponder when thinking about how I want to portray myself to others. They are also the questions I ask myself about those leaders who I am entering into a relationship with, on a personal or professional basis, or when I want to decide who I am going to follow. 

1.      Would you trust this person with your child?

2.      Would you want your child to emulate their behavior or the way they treat other people?

3.      Does their language and attitude display a servant’s heart or a self-serving or self-aggrandizing demeanor?

4.      Do they communicate in any way that “the ends justify the means”?

5.      Are they an active listener during conversations, meetings or negotiations, or do they have an overriding desire to dominate the conversation, the room and every situation?

6.      Is winning at all costs the most important driver for them?

7.      Am I, or are they, willing to modify ethics, values or morals in order to receive something of value or that might benefit me/them or my/their company?

8.      Do they display a servant’s heart in words and actions or does a “me first” attitude guide them?

The answers should speak for themselves. Do you want to be viewed as a leader who is consistent, ethical, moral and someone who has a servant’s heart? Or do you really believe that it’s ok to adjust your values because the ends justify the means? Just remember, if it’s ok for you to modify your values as needed, you must be willing to allow that same approach from friends, colleagues, business partners and competitors.

My hope for the New Year is that all of us can find a way to reset, re-evaluate and re-imagine what the world could be like if we all followed the golden rule instead of the rule of gold. 

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Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

[1] Oxford Languages and Google

[2] Oxford Languages and Google

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