CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - Why leaders must make the character their loudest statement

CEO Agenda

Why leaders must make the character their loudest statement

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When talking about leadership, skills, knowledge, and accomplishments often take centre stage. While these attributes are undoubtedly valuable, they only scratch the surface of what makes a truly effective leader. Beneath such surface lies a powerful force that shapes trust, credibility, and the enduring impact of leadership – character. Effective leadership is a combination of accomplishments and the qualities that inspire and guide those accomplishments. 

For example, Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. Her strong character traits and values-driven leadership style were instrumental in guiding PepsiCo through challenging times and fostering sustainable growth. Her character traits, such as authenticity, integrity, and empathy, were reflected in her leadership approach.

She consistently emphasized the importance of “Performance with Purpose,” a concept that aligned business success with societal and environmental responsibility. Under her leadership, PepsiCo made significant strides in promoting healthier products, reducing environmental impact, and supporting communities.

On the other hand, when leaders fail to make their character their loudest statement, the foundation of effective leadership crumbles. The resulting negative effects can lead to a downward spiral affecting both the leader’s reputation and the organization’s overall health. For example, Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, gained notoriety for his decision to astronomically increase the price of Daraprim, a critical medication used to treat parasitic infections, from $13.50 to a staggering $750 per pill overnight. His unapologetic attitude and disregard for patients’ well-being drew widespread condemnation and raised questions about ethics in the pharmaceutical industry, in 2022, he was ordered by a U.S. District Judge to return $64.6 million in profits from the Daraprim price hike, and was barred from the pharmaceutical industry for the rest of this life.

Making character the loudest statement is a matter of ethics and a strategic imperative for organizational success. Prioritizing character results in a healthier, more productive, and respected work environment, while neglecting character can lead to damaging consequences that affect culture, reputation, leadership effectiveness, and the organization’s long-term prospects. How?

Work inwardly to achieve outwardly

Character development is a lifelong journey that involves intentional efforts to cultivate positive qualities, values, and behaviours; it involves taking time to reflect on your values, strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement; it also involves defining your core values that guide your decisions and actions, and committing to acting with honesty, authenticity, and consistency in all aspects of your life. Uphold your values, even when no one is watching.

Align your actions with your words

Trust is the currency of leadership. The intangible yet indispensable element knits together leaders and their followers. Character plays a pivotal role in cultivating trust and credibility. When leaders consistently align their words with their actions, they build a reputation for authenticity and reliability. A leader who embodies strong character traits like honesty, integrity, and consistency sends a powerful message to their team – that their words can be trusted and their intentions are genuine. This trust forms the foundation for a leader to build strong relationships, foster open communication, and guide their team through challenges with unwavering support.

Prioritise principles over personal gain

Leadership is not merely about making decisions; it’s about making the right decisions that benefit the organization, its stakeholders, and society as a whole. Ethical decision-making is a hallmark of character-driven leadership. Leaders with strong character prioritize principles over personal gain. They consider the broader impact of their choices and act in alignment with their values, even in the face of difficult circumstances. Such leaders steer clear of compromise and short-term gains that could tarnish their reputation, instead opting for choices that stand the test of time and uphold the ethical fabric of the organization.

Inspiration Through Authenticity

Leadership isn’t just about managing tasks but guiding individuals toward a shared vision. Authentic leadership, rooted in character, has the power to inspire, influence, and transform. When a leader’s character is their loudest statement, their authenticity resonates deeply with their team. Genuine leaders who embrace their imperfections, share their stories, and express vulnerability connect on a human level. This connection breeds loyalty and a sense of belonging, motivating team members to invest their best efforts in the collective journey.

Character is not a fixed trait but a dynamic quality that can be cultivated and refined over time. Just as leadership demands adaptation to changing circumstances, leaders who actively work on enhancing their character traits are better equipped to navigate the complexities of leadership. In the symphony of leadership, the character serves as the crescendo that echoes long after the final note. While skills and accomplishments draw attention, it’s the character that resonates with depth, authenticity, and enduring influence, the true legacy a leader leaves behind.

Written by Ella Zhang.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - Why leaders must make the character their loudest statement
Ella Zhang
Ella Zhang, author of Upgrade: How to outperform your default self to gain your superpowers, is a strategic change maker, organisational development specialist and coach, who helps business leaders to tap into their inner wisdom to design and fine tune people strategies, form up individual and organisational habits to create value and purpose driven workplaces.

Ella Zhang is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.