Character and Competence in Leadership

Character and Competence in Leadership

Leading requires two or more people acting in concert with each other. It involves influence and requires the pursuit of common goals. Mere competence is insufficient to ensure sustained leadership effectiveness over time.  It is critical that leaders possess a solid ethical foundation as well, in order to ensure the results generated through leadership activities can be sustained over time.  Character and competence, both are important. This blog aims to identify as to which is more important- character or competence for leadership effectiveness. It is important for us to be clear as to what do we understand by the terms character and competence, before we evaluate their relative importance to leadership.

Meaning of Character and Competence

Character of a leader includes his integrity, motives, intent with people and reputation created. Competence includes his capabilities, skills, results, and track record of performance.

Character Shapes Organizational Culture

As a child we imbibe the culture created at home by our parents.  We similarly imbibe the culture at school/college/workplace. The culture has more to do with values than competence. Just think what impressed you more about your parents- their competence in their field of work or their character, that is, integrity, respect for others, loyalty and respect for keeping commitments? The answer is obviously the latter. The same analogy applies to organizations. I would trust Tata rather than Reliance. This is because of the reputation of higher values built over the years. A common Indian is likely to trust a soldier, rather than a politician or a bureaucrat. This is due to the reputation built through character shown by a majority of Army personnel and reputation for corruption built by politicians and bureaucrats.

Character takes longer to build than Competence

Competence can be built in a relatively shorter time compared with character, which takes a lifetime to build. The latter is a more stable personality trait compared with competence, which is much more dynamic.

Benefits of High Character in Interpersonal Relations and Leadership

An example from the contemporary corporate world shows the benefits of high character and trust. Consider the example of Warren Buffett — CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (and generally considered one of the most trusted leaders in the world) — who completed a major acquisition of McLane Distribution (a $23 billion company) from Wal-Mart. As public companies, both Berkshire Hathaway and Wal-Mart are subject to all kinds of market and regulatory scrutiny. Typically, a merger of this size would take several months to complete and cost several million dollars to pay for accountants, auditors, and attorneys to verify and validate all kinds of information. But in this instance, because both parties operated with high trust, the deal was made with one two-hour meeting and a handshake. In less than a month, it was completed. High trust ensured high speed and low cost.

13 Behaviours of Trusted Leaders

We have realised the great significance of character in developing our leadership. It is considered pertinent to list out the 13 common behaviours of trusted leaders of the world as identified by Stephen Covey
1. Talk straight
2. Demonstrate respect
3. Create transparency
4. Right the past wrongs
5. Show loyalty
6. Deliver results
7. Get better
8. Confront reality
9. Clarify expectations
10. Practice accountability
11. Listen first to others.
12. Keep commitments
13. Extend trust.

Conclusion: Character is more Important than Competence to Leadership

We have realised that character is much more important to leadership effectiveness than competence. We can sincerely work to develop the above behaviours to enhance our leadership effectiveness at home, in personal relations, organizations and society.

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