The Soul of Leadership & Pausing to Reflect on How You Do Business

2 min. read

When Pope Francis’s visited the US in 2015, he gave us an opportunity to see and hear up close what it means to live a life of goodness, peace, and grace.

Too much for us mortals to emulate?

Not if you see the Pope as an embodiment of the qualities of character and courage to which all types of leaders can aspire.

The importance of character for effective leadership is well-known and highly studied.

Character is what 19th-century author, Cyrus Bartol, referred to as “the diamond that scratches every other stone, the only source of power that can add or subtract from every other source.”

Leadership experts Zenger and Folkman in a study of 25,000 managers concluded that “personal character is absolutely at the heart of effective leadership” (Zenger, The Extraordinary Leader, 2002).

The literature on emotional intelligence with thousands of managers also speaks to why character is an important leadership characteristic.

Character for an individual is similar to what culture is for an organization.

It defines what it’s like to work in your presence.

It is a strange concoction of beliefs, mannerisms, and behaviors. Character manifests itself through the ways you relate with and treat people.

It’s the image you project, consciously or unconsciously, and how others perceive you.

Character is judged not by what you say, but what you do.

And if the words and actions don’t line up, people immediately see warning lights.

Character is not something you fake. It’s just there. People sniff out ego and self-importance in an instant, kind of like fresh dog poop on the kitchen floor. 

A strong character looks for how much we share in common.

It respects and celebrates what makes us different. A weak character seeks self-protection, laying low, and blaming others for one’s personal preservation.

When coupled with moral courage, character enables us to make tough decisions, even in the face of opposition – and especially when there is right and wrong of both sides. 

Together they create confidence and define presence.

This is not about being right or proving that you are smarter than others. It doesn’t mean that your life is mistake-free.

It means doing what is fair and just. We could use a little more moral courage these days.

If competence is the head,
and emotional intelligence, the heart,
then, character is the soul.

This is what it means to be whole.

As mortal creatures, effective leaders understand why they have to work at this every day.