Character, Traits in Leadership and Leadership Styles
Character develops over time. Many think that much of a person’s character is formed early in life. However, we do not know exactly how much or how early character develops. But, it is safe to claim that character does not change quickly. A person’s observable behavior is an indication of her character. This behavior can be strong or weak, good or bad. A person with strong character shows drive, energy, determination, self-discipline, willpower, and nerve. She sees what she wants and goes after it. She attracts followers. On the other hand, a person with weak character shows none of these traits. She does not know what she wants. Her traits are disorganized, she vacillates and is inconsistent. She will attract no followers.
A strong person can be good or bad. A gang leader is an example of a strong person with a bad character, while an outstanding community leader is one with both strong and good characteristics. An organization needs leaders with both strong and good characteristics, people who will guide them to the future and show that they can be trusted.
Courage — not complacency — is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship. — John F. Kennedy
To be an effective leader, your followers must have trust in you and they need to be sold on your vision. Korn-Ferry International, an executive search company, performed a survey on what organizations want from their leaders. The respondents said they wanted people who were both ethical and who convey a strong vision of the future. In any organization, a leader’s actions set the pace. This behavior wins trust, loyalty, and ensures the organization’s continued vitality. One of the ways to build trust is to display a good sense of character composed of beliefs, values, skills, and traits (U.S. Army Handbook, 1973):
Beliefs are what we hold dear to us and are rooted deeply within us. They could be assumptions or convictions that you hold true regarding people, concepts, or things. They could be the beliefs about life, death, religion, what is good, what is bad, what is human nature, etc.
Values are attitudes about the worth of people, concepts, or things. For example, you might value a good car, home, friendship, personal comfort, or relatives. Values are important as they influence a person’s behavior to weigh the importance of alternatives. For example, you might value friends more than privacy, while others might be the opposite.
Skills are the knowledge and abilities that a person gains throughout life. The ability to learn a new skill varies with each individual. Some skills come almost naturally, while others come only by complete devotion to study and practice.
Traits are distinguishing qualities or characteristics of a person, while character is the sum total of these traits. There are hundreds of personality traits, far too many to be discussed here. Instead, we will focus on a few that are crucial for a leader. The more of these you display as a leader, the more your followers will believe and trust in you.
Leaders do not command excellence, they build excellence. Excellence is “being all you can be” within the bounds of doing what is right for your organization. To reach excellence you must first be a leader of good character. You must do everything you are supposed to do. Organizations will not achieve excellence by figuring out where it wants to go, having leaders do whatever they have to in order to get the job done, and then hope their leaders acted with good character. This type of thinking is backwards. Pursuing excellence should not be confused with accomplishing a job or task. When you do planning, you do it by backwards planning. But you do not achieve excellence by backwards planning. Excellence starts with leaders of good and strong character who engage in the entire process of leadership. And the first process is being a person of honorable character.
Traits of a Good Leader
Compiled by the Santa Clara University and the Tom Peters Group:
- Honest — Display sincerity, integrity, and candor in all your actions. Deceptive behavior will not inspire trust.
- Competent — Base your actions on reason and moral principles. Do not make decisions based on childlike emotional desires or feelings.
- Forward-looking — Set goals and have a vision of the future. The vision must be owned throughout the organization. Effective leaders envision what they want and how to get it. They habitually pick priorities stemming from their basic values.
- Inspiring — Display confidence in all that you do. By showing endurance in mental, physical, and spiritual stamina, you will inspire others to reach for new heights. Take charge when necessary.
- Intelligent — Read, study, and seek challenging assignments.
- Fair-minded — Show fair treatment to all people. Prejudice is the enemy of justice. Display empathy by being sensitive to the feelings, values, interests, and well-being of others.
- Broad-minded — Seek out diversity.
- Courageous — Have the perseverance to accomplish a goal, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Display a confident calmness when under stress.
- Straightforward — Use sound judgment to make a good decisions at the right time.
- Imaginative — Make timely and appropriate changes in your thinking, plans, and methods. Show creativity by thinking of new and better goals, ideas, and solutions to problems. Be innovative!
Retreat Hell! We’ve just got here! — Attributed to several World War I Marine Corps officers, Belleau Wood, June 1918 (key ideal — take a stand)
Attributes establish what leaders are, and every leader needs at least three of them (U.S. Army Handbook, 1973):
- Standard Bearers
- establish the ethical framework within an organization. This demands a commitment to live and defend the climate and culture that you want to permeate your organization. What you set as an example will soon become the rule as unlike knowledge, ethical behavior is learned more by observing than by listening. And in fast moving situations, examples become certainty. Being a standard bearer creates trust and openness in your employees, who in turn, fulfill your visions.
- help others learn through teaching, training, and coaching. This creates an exciting place to work and learn. Never miss an opportunity to teach or learn something new yourself. Coaching suggests someone who cares enough to get involved by encouraging and developing others who are less experienced. Employees who work for developers know that they can take risks, learn by making mistakes, and winning in the end.
- orchestrate the many activities that take place throughout an organization by providing a view of the future and the ability to obtain it. Success can only be achieved when there is a unity of effort. Integrators have a sixth sense about where problems will occur and make their presence felt during critical times. They know that their employees do their best when they are left to work within a vision-based framework.
Goddamn it, you will never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me! — Captain Henry P. “Jim” Crowe, USMC, Guadalcanal, 13 January 1943. (key words — follow me, NOT “go”)
Leadership style is the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. Kurt Lewin (1939) led a group of researchers to identify different styles of leadership. This early study has been very influential and established three major leadership styles: (Lewin, LIippit, White 1939, U.S. Army Handbook, 1973):
- autocratic or authoritarian
- participative or democratic
- delegative or laissez-fair
Although good leaders use all three styles, with one of them normally dominant, bad leaders tend to stick with one style (normally autocratic).
This style is used when leaders tell their employees what they want done and how they want it accomplished, without getting the advice of their followers. Some of the appropriate conditions to use it is when you have all the information to solve the problem, you are short on time, and your employees are well motivated.
Some people tend to think of this style as a vehicle for yelling, using demeaning language, and leading by threats and abusing their power. This is not the authoritarian style, rather it is an abusive, unprofessional style called “bossing people around.” It has no place in a leader’s repertoire.
The authoritarian style should normally only be used on rare occasions. If you have the time and want to gain more commitment and motivation from your employees, then you should use the participative style.
This style involves the leader including one or more employees in the decision making process (determining what to do and how to do it). However, the leader maintains the final decision making authority. Using this style is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength that your employees will respect.
This is normally used when you have part of the information, and your employees have other parts. A leader is not expected to know everything—this is why you employ knowledgeable and skillful employees. Using this style is of mutual benefit as it allows them to become part of the team and allows you to make better decisions.
Delegative (laissez faire)
In this style, the leader allows the employees to make the decisions. However, the leader is still responsible for the decisions that are made. This is used when employees are able to analyze the situation and determine what needs to be done and how to do it. You cannot do everything! You must set priorities and delegate certain tasks.
This is not a style to use so that you can blame others when things go wrong, rather this is a style to be used when you fully trust and confidence in the people below you. Do not be afraid to use it, however, use it wisely!
NOTE: Laissez Faire (or lais·ser faire) is the noninterference in the affairs of others. [French : laissez, second person pl. imperative of laisser, to let, allow + faire, to do.]
A good leader uses all three styles, depending on what forces are involved between the followers, the leader, and the situation. Some examples include:
- Using an authoritarian style on a new employee who is just learning the job. The leader is competent and a good coach. The employee is motivated to learn a new skill. The situation is a new environment for the employee.
- Using a participative style with a team of workers who know their job. The leader knows the problem, but does not have all the information. The employees know their jobs and want to become part of the team.
- Using a delegative style with a worker who knows more about the job than you. You cannot do everything and the employee needs to take ownership of her job! In addition, this allows you to be at other places, doing other things.
- Using all three: Telling your employees that a procedure is not working correctly and a new one must be established (authoritarian). Asking for their ideas and input on creating a new procedure (participative). Delegating tasks in order to implement the new procedure (delegative or laissez faire).
Forces that influence the style to be used included:
- How much time is available.
- Are relationships based on respect and trust or on disrespect?
- Who has the information—you, your employees, or both?
- How well your employees are trained and how well you know the task.
- Internal conflicts.
- Stress levels.
- Type of task. Is it structured, unstructured, complicated, or simple?
- Laws or established procedures such as OSHA or training plans.
Positive and Negative Approaches
There is a difference in ways leaders approach their employee. Positive leaders use rewards, such as education, independence, etc. to motivate employees. While negative employers emphasize penalties. While the negative approach has a place in a leader’s repertoire of tools, it must be used carefully due to its high cost on the human spirit.
Negative leaders act domineering and superior with people. They believe the only way to get things done is through penalties, such as loss of job, days off without pay, reprimanding employees in front of others, etc. They believe their authority is increased by frightening everyone into higher levels of productivity. Yet what always happens when this approach is used wrongly is that morale falls; which of course leads to lower productivity.
Also note that most leaders do not strictly use one or another, but are somewhere on a continuum ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative. People who continuously work out of the negative are bosses while those who primarily work out of the positive are considered real leaders.
Use of Consideration and Structure
Two other approaches that leaders use are:
Consideration (employee orientation) — leaders are concerned about the human needs of their employees. They build teamwork, help employees with their problems, and provide psychological support.
Structure (task orientation) — leaders believe that they get results by consistently keeping people busy and urging them to produce.
There is evidence that leaders who are considerate in their leadership style are higher performers and are more satisfied with their job (Schriesheim, 1982).
Also notice that consideration and structure are independent of each other, thus they should not be viewed on a continuum. For example, a leader who becomes more considerate, does not necessarily mean that she has become less structured.
See Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid as it is also based on this concept.
Paternalism has at times been equated with leadership styles. Yet most definitions of leadership normally state or imply that one of the actions within leadership is that of influencing. For example, the Army uses the following definition:
Leadership is influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.
The Army further goes on by defining “influence” as:
A means of getting people to do what you want them to do. It is the means or method to achieve two ends: operating and improving. But there is more to influencing than simply passing along orders. The example you set is just as important as the words you speak. And you set an example—good or bad—with every action you take and word you utter, on or off duty. Through your words and example, you must communicate purpose, direction, and motivation.
While “paternalism” is defined as (Webster):
A system under which an authority undertakes to supply needs or regulate conduct of those under its control in matters affecting them as individuals as well as in their relationships to authority and to each other.
Thus paternalism supplies needs for those under its protection or control, while leadership gets things done. The first is directed inwards, while the latter is directed outwards.
Geert Hofstede (1997) studied culture within organizations. Part of his study was on the dependence relationship or Power Difference—the extent to which the less powerful members of an organization expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. Hofstede gave this story to illustrate this Power Difference:
The last revolution in Sweden disposed of King Gustav IV, whom they considered incompetent, and surprising invited Jean Baptise Bernadotte, a French general who served under Napoleon, to become their new King. He accepted and became King Charles XIV. Soon afterward he needed to address the Swedish Parliament. Wanting to be accepted, he tried to do the speech in their language. His broken language amused the Swedes so much that they roared with laughter. The Frenchman was so upset that he never tried to speak Swedish again.
Bernadotte was a victim of culture shock—never in his French upbringing and military career had he experienced subordinates who laughed at the mistakes of their superior. This story has a happy ending as he was considered very good and ruled the country as a highly respected constitutional monarch until 1844. (His descendants still occupy the Swedish throne.)
Sweden differs from France in the way its society handles inequality (those in charge and the followers). To measure inequality or Power Difference, Hofstede studied three survey questions from a larger survey that both factored and carried the same weight:
- Frequency of employees being afraid to express disagreement with their managers.
- Subordinates’ perception of their boss’s actual decision making style (paternalistic style was one choice).
- Subordinates’ preference for their boss’s decision-making style (again, paternalistic style was one choice).
He developed a Power Difference Index (PDI) for the 53 countries that took the survey. Their scores range from 11 to 104. The higher the number a country received, the more autocratic and/or paternalistic the leadership, which of course relates to employees being more afraid or unwilling to disagree with their bosses. While lower numbers mean a more consultative style of leadership is used, which translates to employees who are not as afraid of their bosses.
For example, Malaysia has the highest PDI score, being 104, while Austria has the lowest with 11. And of course, as the story above illustrates, Sweden has a relative low score of 31, while France has a PDI of 68. The USA’s is 40. Note that these scores are relative, not absolute, in that relativism affirms that one culture has no absolute criteria for judging activities of another culture as “low” or “noble”.
Keeping the above in mind, it seems that some picture paternalistic behavior as almost a barbaric way of getting things accomplished. Yet, leadership is all about getting things done for the organization. And in some situations, a paternalistic style of decision-making might be required; indeed, in some cultures and individuals, it may also be expected by not only those in charge, but also the followers. That is what makes leadership styles quite interesting—they basically run along the same continuum as Hofstede’s PDI, ranging from paternalistic to consultative styles of decision making. This allows a wide range of individual behaviors to be dealt with, ranging from beginners to peak performers. In addition, it accounts for the fact that not everyone is the same.
However, when paternalistic or autocratic styles are relied upon too much and the employees are ready and/or willing to react to a more consultative type of leadership style, then it normally becomes quite damaging to the performance of the organization.