“Wanted:

Upper management professional with minimum five years leadership experience. Must be qualified to degree level.

You will be a forward-planner, results-orientated, self-driven. You pride yourself on thinking outside of the box. You will have a ruthless aptitude for evaluating performance effectiveness.”

Does this look familiar? It might — it’s a mash up of several genuine job advertisements I found online.

Whether we’re the employees playing follow the leader or the folks in charge of hiring them, we all think we know what a great leader looks like. We all have similar expectations…

We look for someone with experience, a proven track record. Someone with the right qualifications and training. Someone ambitious, someone with vision, someone “ruthless”.

I’m willing to bet right now that you’ve never, not once, come across a job ad that mentions either of the essential baseline qualities that anyone in a leadership role actually needs. The two qualities that, when lacking, render experience, ambition, and drive, completely pointless.

When was the last time you saw a call for a leader with character and integrity?

These two qualities are grossly underrated yet together they form the foundation of any ethical leader.

When you have them, they inform every action you take as a leader, every decision you make.

When complex situations arise, when seemingly impossible challenges hit, they act as your compass.

And without them, nothing else works right. Without them, you may sway. You begin to make comprises, you make the decisions that require less strength. You opt for the easy path instead of the right one.

With them, however, you can lead with honesty, fairness, and ethics.

A leader with character and integrity is more than a leader — they’re a teacher. They actually confer these same qualities to the people under them. They turn them into “leaders in waiting”. They focus on teaching people how to be rather than what to do, which ensures they too have the strength and ability to act ethically; to take the right path rather than the easy one.

The bad news?

Character can’t be bottled and bought. You can’t pick it up from a single training event, or a single book. There’s no switch you can flick for instant integrity. When it comes to character, your rank, your paycheck, and your title are meaningless.

The good news?

You — anyone — can develop character and integrity. It comes from within. It’s already there and there are ways to bring it out, to strengthen it, and to make sure that it shows up when times get tough and difficult decisions are required.

How to develop your character and integrity.

Think of a leader you admire.

What is it that you admire about them? How do they display their character and integrity day-to-day, and how can you learn from this?

It’s important to remember that good leaders know when to lead and when to follow.

Decide your “non-negotiables”.

These are your unwavering beliefs. The things that hold true for you no matter what pressure you’re under, no matter what obstacles present themselves. The things that you believe to be right and those you believe to be wrong.

When you get crystal clear on what these are for you, they make decision-making far simpler and keep you pointing towards your true north.

Invest in people.

Good leaders understand that when it comes to business, the smart investor looks to the people around them — whether they’re investing their time or their finances.

Focus on helping the people in your orbit grow and develop. Choose to see their positive attributes and watch them flourish under your appreciation and encouragement. Show them that you recognize their potential and they’ll do everything they can to live up to it.

Check your ego at the door.

You may be top dog, but you’re also part of a team. Connect with the people under you, seek their advice, give them the tools they need to become “leaders in waiting”, take an interest in their lives and their career progression. Then watch their engagement in their work soar. Your team will be more effective and you’ll find your leadership role far more rewarding.

Start small.

You’re never done developing your character so there’s no rush to the finish line. And as with anything else, practicing when the stakes are small will strengthen your integrity muscle in preparation for the times when bigger problems inevitably hit.

Try to find a situation this week where you can flex that integrity muscle — a small decision or uncomfortable conversation you’ve been putting off — and start there.

Ethical leadership, like anything worth pursuing, isn’t easy. Experience will make it easier, vision will lead to exciting opportunities, and your previous training certainly hasn’t been wasted. But to be an effective leader, an ethical leader, you need more. You need character and integrity. When these two qualities underpin everything else in your leadership “toolbox”, you’ll have the confidence to face any situation with the knowledge that you will only ever make the right decision.

Al Schauer is the Founder of PointNorth Consulting. He offers coaching and mentoring to aspiring leaders committed to leading with character. His new book on values and doing the right thing will be available Spring 2019. Sign up through the link below to receive updates on how you can purchase his book.

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