Article: Effective leadership through character-building

Technology

Effective leadership through character-building

Effective leadership in today's VUCA world relies on character traits such as integrity, fairness, and empathy. Leaders with formidable character engender superior outcomes and a profoundly engaged workforce.
Effective leadership through character-building

The importance of good leadership in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world cannot be overstated. Effective leadership requires engaging employees effectively. Yet, this remains easier said than done. For instance, the ‘2023 State of the Global Workplace’ report by Gallup reveals that Europe had only 13% engaged employees, the lowest regional percentage. So why is employee engagement such a huge challenge? The report notes that worldwide, leaders must do more than merely manage the workloads of their teams.

Leadership, character, and results

Gallup asserts that leaders are responsible for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Moreover, leaders must guide team members through unknown civil, health, political, and allied challenges that emerge and could influence the global workforce unexpectedly. For this, leaders must act swiftly in providing guidance.

Given these circumstances, the role of character in leadership is indispensable. Character in leadership goes much beyond ethics, encompassing traits such as fairness and willingness to serve others. Fairness does not mean treating everybody equally. Fairness implies treating people differently. For example, a person who is honest and hard-working and someone who is not cannot be treated the same. When it comes to decision-making and performance, character plays a major role for leaders across all levels.

Fred Kiel’s research found a connection between bottom-line results and character, indicating that leaders who possessed integrity and responsibility secured higher returns on assets. Kiel’s research noted that organisations with leaders achieving high character scores have a five times higher average return on assets compared to those with low character traits.

Examples of leaders possessing strong character traits include Martin Luther King Jr. His non-violent civil rights leadership and world-renowned ‘I Have a Dream’ speech have inspired millions worldwide. In India, similar traits of leadership, integrity, and dedication to social causes were seen in Dr. Verghese Kurien, the Father of the White Revolution, as well as Acharya Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual leader and Bhoodan movement advocate.

Why empathy and integrity matter?

Undoubtedly, leaders possessing strong character traits such as integrity, resilience, and empathy can drive more effective leadership. One vital trait for effective leaders is emotional intelligence, wherein empathy is a subset. Emotional intelligence is imperative for effective leadership since it permits a better understanding of the needs, concerns, and motivations of team members. It also improves communication, boosts trust, and promotes greater collaboration among teams. Emotionally balanced people are more stable and balanced.

Another key leadership characteristic is integrity. The EY Global Integrity Report found that an overwhelming 97% of respondents agreed on its importance. Globally, corporate integrity is highly valued by both employees and senior executives. As a result, more companies are investing in integrity training.

Character in leadership also requires that leaders accept responsibility for team failures while being magnanimous in giving them credit for success. Late President Abdul Kalam’s story of ISRO Chairman, Satish Dhawan, is worth recounting. In July 1979, ISRO launched a satellite with Kalam leading the project. Despite the reservations of some members about the launch readiness, Kalam went ahead with it. Unfortunately, it failed, and the satellite plunged into the Bay of Bengal. A petrified Kalam was saved from embarrassment when Dhawan faced the TV cameras and said he reposed full faith in his team’s abilities despite this failure and expressed confidence that the next attempt would succeed.

The next August, Kalam and his team tried another satellite launch, which succeeded. Dhawan congratulated the team but asked Kalam to now address the press conference. Years later, Kalam recounted how the leader accepted the onus for their failure but credited the success to his team. Satish Dhawan truly epitomises empathy and integrity in leadership.

Ways to foster leadership

Good leaders create more leaders. Of course, not all leaders may belong to the same mould. Therefore, focused efforts may be required to foster strong character and leadership in the workplace. This would include training, mentoring, and leading by example, to mention a few. Consistent value-based training can groom upcoming leaders on how to become effective role models. A good hiring philosophy is to hire people with good character whose skills can be enhanced with proper training.

When it comes to character building in organisations, HR heads have an important role to play. When hiring new employees, it is critical to find the right fit, rather than recruiting to merely meet the numbers. For this, HR leads must determine whether the company’s values and work ethics resonate with prospective job seekers. Hiring people with compatible views and values helps strengthen the company’s work culture while increasing the prospects of creating a leadership pool sometime later.

Mentoring also helps in building a cohesive team, aligned with organisational values while bringing new joiners up to speed on the work ethics and expectations of the company. Mentorship can be instrumental in developing a leadership pipeline by offering timely guidance and support as well as providing valuable insights to potential leaders. By freely sharing their experiences and knowledge, mentors can help mentees grow faster and perform much better.

Organisations and nations are not just built on skills but also on character. One should not overlook that early education helps build character since virtues taught to children in their formative years can exert a lifelong influence. In this context, one cannot forget the words of theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer who remarked: “There are only three ways to teach a child. The first is by example, the second is by example and the third is by example.

In conclusion, fostering character in leadership is crucial not only for organisational success but also for nation-building. By prioritising character traits such as integrity, empathy, and resilience, leaders can create a more engaged and motivated workforce, ultimately driving better outcomes for both their organisations and society as a whole.

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Topics: Technology, Leadership, Leadership Development, Employee Engagement, #HRCommunity, #Artificial Intelligence

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