“A true test of character isn't Who you are on your best days but how you act on your worst days…” Unknown
Robert Greenleaf wove an intricate / thoughtful mosaic of leadership competencies and traits that has given us a leadership model that - slowly but surely - gathers momentum - Servant Leadership. And now we take a deeper dive into the "Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership" as we begin with Greenleaf's first pillar - "Being A Person of Character".
Don't take Greenleaf's word for it...
Through the centuries, CHARACTER continues to be a "hinge" - connecting our being with how we "show up". Cases in point:
Above a door to a classroom building the following words were engraved:
Be careful of your thoughts,
for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words,
for your words become your deeds.
Be careful of your deeds.
for your deeds become your habits.
Be careful of your habits,
for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character,
for your character becomes your destiny.
The dictionary describes character as “the qualities that define who we are.” The word comes from the Greek word charak, meaning “engraved” or “inscribed.”
Reflections of Character Through the Years:
"Character is destiny." Heraclitus - Greek philosopher
"Within the character of the citizen lies the welfare of the nation." Cicero - Greek philosopher
"A glance at history reminds us that civilizations do not flourish forever. They rise, and they fall. They fall when the moral core deteriorates – when a society fails to pass on its core virtues, its strengths of character, to the next generation." Lance Morrow - Essayist
"Out of 21 notable civilizations, 19 perished not by conquest from without but by moral decay from within." Arnold Toynbee - Historian
"Character is higher than intellect." Ralph Waldo Emerson - Philosopher
"The stability of our lives depends on our character. It is character, not passion, that keeps marriages together long enough to do their work of raising children into mature, responsible, productive citizens. In this imperfect world, it is character that enables people to survive, to endure, and to transcend their misfortunes." Frank Pittman - Psychiatrist
"To do well you must do good. And to do good, you must first be good. All of us who are parents naturally want our children to be successful. But we know in our bones that it's their character – their honesty, sense of responsibility, kindness, perseverance in the face of difficulty, courage in the face of danger or social pressure – that makes them human. If they lack these, brains and success don't count for much." Stephen Covey - Author
"Some people get all A's but flunk life." Walker Percy - Author
"An ounce of character is worth a pound of intelligence." A proverb
“Character is a compatible mix of all those virtues identified by religious traditions, literary stories, the sages, and persons of common sense down through history.” Michael Novak - Historian
"ALL Americans will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Martin Luther King, Jr.
It's no surprise, the concept of character is prominent in best-selling books such as Emotional Intelligence, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Book of Virtues and Greenleaf's essays. These and many others are reflections on character and its importance in our individual and collective lives. Life, as these writings remind us, is a moral and spiritual journey for which we need a reliable inner compass.
Being a Leader of Character
According to Frederick Reichheld "Leaders who are seen as persons of character are more likely to generate loyalty, creativity, and productivity among company employees." Research at Harvard University indicates that 85 percent of a leader’s performance depends upon personal character. (Warren Bennis "The Leadership Advantage") Bottom-line, servant-led companies with a strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values and principles outperform other companies by a huge margin. (John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett, Corporate Culture and Performance)
THE Three Character Traits...
When Greenleaf reflected on the pillar of character, he identified three specific character traits that define a leader's character: 1. Integrity; 2. Humility; and 3. Higher Purpose.
Integrity is being anchored to moral principle, adhering to a moral conscience, keeping our word, and standing up for what we believe.
"A Servant-Leader lives, loves, and leads by conscience the inward moral sense of what is right and what is wrong. According to Stephen Covey, that one quality is what sets Servant-Leaders apart from all others. It is the difference between leadership that works and leadership—like Servant Leadership—that endures . Other leadership writers have also suggested that a person of character is one whose inner compass stays oriented to “True North,” where enduring, universal values and virtues can guide behavior. Listen to Bill George, former CEO of medical device giant Medtronic. He and his colleagues interviewed 125 ethically grounded leaders with diverse backgrounds, from multiple arenas. True North is the internal compass that guides you successfully through life. It represents who you are as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point—your fixed point in a spinning world—that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life." Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving
Things servant leaders do to maintain integrity:
- Serves others without self-interest;
- Return phone calls, emails, conversations;
- Follow up on details;
- Do what they say they will do;
- Tells the truth to themselves and others (even when it's hard);
- Admit mistakes;
CS Lewis once said "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."
Standing in front of people and says "I'm humble." challenges the definition of what it "looks like". "People who embody humility do not over-evaluate themselves—that would be grandiosity—or under-evaluate themselves—that would be false humility. They keep their talents and accomplishments in perspective, remain other-focused and moderate, and allow themselves to be influenced by the input and feedback of others. They are self-confident but unassuming, always accountable to followers." Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving
Things servant leaders do to maintain humility:
- Are humble;
- Don't over-estimate their own ability;
- Puts someone's needs ahead of their own;
- Demonstrate awe of others, not themselves;
- Admit they don't have all the answers;
- Do NOT seek the spot light;
- Demonstrate gratitude.
3. Higher Purpose
Servant leaders latch onto something bigger than themselves. They understand it is NOT about them but the greater good.
They have answered these questions:
- Where do I find joy?
- What am I passionate about?
- What am I really good at?
- What have my failures taught me about my proper calling?
- What surprising feedback have I had from others about what I could be doing to make a difference?
- What will be my epitaph?
For more questions SEE: Questions to Uncover YOUR Calling / Purpose / Why...
A servant leader whose has identified their's and their company's purpose can answer Greenleaf's "Best Test" to the positive:
- Do those served, grow as persons?
- Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
- What is the effect on the least privileged in society?
- Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
A self-serving leader would be unable to answer the above questions in a positive way. So, a servant leader needs to identify a calling. Which is why a servant leader views their role as "A Calling -VS- A Job..."
Things servant leaders do to focus on a higher purpose:
- Constantly verify their purpose is still serving the higher good (SEE "Best Test" above);
- Nurture / encourage others to seek / embrace their calling;
- Place any key decisions through the "Best Test" filter.
My best to your quest!
I believe each of us is a gift. I create trusted relationships where individuals, teams and leaders NAME, CLAIM and AIM their gifts to achieve optimum performance.
Interested to Learn About Yourself or Your Team? Mark is a Certified CliftonStrengths Coach and TotalSDI Facilitator and happy to discuss your situation / team.
SEE Summary List of Other Blogs!
About Mark Myette
I believe each of us is a gift. I create trusted
Based out Roam - Buckhead - 3365 Piedmont Rd NE, Suite 1400 (2nd Floor), Atlanta, GA 30305
Can meet at other Roam locations if appropriate: Alpharetta; Dunwoody; or Galleria