Let’s make character a primary criterion for selecting leaders

Think about it: What if individual character was a primary criterion for selecting our leaders in business, the public sector, and the non-profits? How would that improve our organizations, our society, and our quality of work life?

On Friday and Saturday, I hosted a workshop for a group of lawyers and law professors who affiliate themselves with therapeutic jurisprudence, a legal philosophy that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of our laws and legal systems. TJ, as we call it, implicitly embraces legal outcomes that support psychological health and well-being. We enjoyed two great days of insightful, spirited, supportive discussions. I’ll be writing more about the overall workshop soon.

As often occurs at TJ-related gatherings, the side conversations with our colleagues plant more seeds of interest. During the wrap-up group dinner at a local Boston eatery, TJ co-founder David Wexler and I were discussing the topic of introverts vs. extroverts, prompted by David’s reading of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012). Cain suggests that society’s attraction to extroverted personality traits correlates with our downplay of individual character; the “Culture of Personality” has triumphed over the “Culture of Character.”

The observation rings true for me. All too often, being able to sell one’s self in the room has become a dominant factor in selecting our leaders. Flash, style, and charisma — the “wow” impact — may crowd out other qualities that have deeper and longer-term significance. Character is among those qualities sometimes given the short shrift.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, however, if characteristics such as moral courage, honesty, empathy, and maturity were placed front and center in what we look for in our leaders? Think of what a better place the world would be if we did. Even we find ourselves swimming upstream on this one, when selecting leaders we should look at individual character and urge others to do the same.

5 responses

  1. If more empathic introverts learned to break silence and express the necessity of doing the right thing, organizational accountability to their employees, the community, and the quality of their product would increase corporate quality and image.

  2. I think this is a very complicated topic, with many facets for consideration.

    It is important not to equate introversion with ‘good character.’ Higher ed is filled with many an introvert who will show poor character when protecting their power.

    Why do people follow leaders with characters that lack honesty, empathy, etc?. These people use fear to motivate. This leads to the desire for quick fixes – which many a politician will verbally provide. Leaders who are honest typically don’t talk in ‘quick fix’ terms, which, of course, doesn’t do much for gaining supporters.

  3. Hallo David, I have been receiving your e-mails and would like to talk to you personally on this matter. Please let me knwo how and when to reah you by telephone. Best regards, Aliana

    Aliana B. E. von Richthofen Phone: 1 617 240-7033 CONFIDENTIAL: This e-mail, including its contents and attachments, if any, are confidential. If you are not the named recipient please notify the sender and immediately delete it. You may not disseminate, distribute, or forward this e-mail message or disclose its contents to anybody else. Ideas, Copyright and any other intellectual property rights contained herein are the sole property of Aliana Brodmann.

    Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 02:53:10 +0000 To: aliana_bevr@hotmail.com

  4. ….Wouldn’t it be wonderful, however, if characteristics such as moral courage, honesty, empathy, and maturity were placed front and center in what we look for in our leaders? …. I would add intelligence (emotional and intellectual) and compassion…..

  5. Just to note that Bruce Weinstein, “The Ethics Guy”, in his book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, doesn’t mention flashy extroversion as one of the crucial qualities, which are:

    -honesty
    -accountability
    -care
    -courage
    -fairness
    -gratitude
    -humility
    -loyalty
    -patience
    -presence

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