Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once observed that he is frequently asked what would change in the next 10 years.
His answer has really influenced the way I approach my work with CEOs and their teams to make change.
Jeff said, “I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time…
“In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.
“And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.” (Source: Jeff Bezos at reInvent, November 2012)
How does this relate to leadership?
In a world of variables, character is the foundation of excellent leadership. And this will never change.
Is your foundation firm?
If you are a regular reader, you receive regular leadership tips and tools on how to be effective. I write about problem-solving, making change, confrontation and critical conversations (and more!) – all skills and competencies that you as leader must manage effectively.
But unless you possess the strength of character to put these tools to work, your results in these areas and all others will be compromised.
Why don’t leaders and their teams give greater focus to this? Well, character is hard to define. And measuring it also becomes a question.
This means that these decision-makers tend to shy away from it and turn to other aspects of development to their own detriment.
Ivey Business School’s professors Crossan, Gandz, and Seijts remind us, “When it comes to leadership, competencies determine what a person can do. Commitment determines what they want to do, and character determines what they will do.” (Crossan, Gandz, and Seijts, Developing Leadership Character, Ivey Business Journal, January/February 2012).
There are 10 leadership virtues, a key part of character, that Crossan, Gandz and Seijts have identified:
- Humility is essential to learning and becoming a better leader.
- Integrity is essential to building trust and encouraging others to collaborate.
- Collaboration enables teamwork.
- Justice yields decisions that are accepted as legitimate and reasonable by others.
- Courage helps leaders make difficult decisions and challenge the decisions or actions of others.
- Temperance ensures that leaders take reasonable risks.
- Accountability ensures that leaders own and commit to the decisions they make and encourages the same in others.
- Humanity builds empathy and understanding of others.
- Transcendence equips the leader with a sense of optimism and purpose.
- Judgment allows leaders to balance and integrate these virtues in ways that serve the needs of multiple stakeholders in and outside their organizations.
And now, let’s examine how they outline that these affect leadership:
You can see how these character traits undergird all that you undertake, and this will not change.
Which of these leadership character traits needs sharpening for you? Your team? Decide to give greater focus to this. Because taking your organization into the future will always begin – and end – with character.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.