Effective Leadership Trait 1 – Person of Character

What do highly effective leaders do? Wrong question – the right question is “what do highly effective leaders BE?” First and foremost, highly effective leaders (whose companies outperform the S&P 500 2.5 to 1) “be” persons of character.

A person of character makes decisions in a manner very different from a typical “show me the bottom line” leader. In making decisions, a person of character:

· Maintains integrity. Integrity starts with honesty, which is the most frequently-cited characteristic of excellent leaders. But integrity doesn’t stop there – it is deeper. It’s grounded in being authentic. Authenticity is about knowing oneself, and being true to your moral compass. Integrity listens to a “True North” moral compass as it makes decisions, realizing that sometimes the decisions will alienate powerful people, and being willing to pay that price. “Principle before profit” could be its motto. Interesting, isn’t it, that companies that have these highly effective leaders outperform the “Profit first” crowd by 2.5 to 1.

· Demonstrates humility. “A position is a role, not a coronation.” This is true for any position, from CEO to groundskeeper. The root word for humility is “humus” – or ground/earth. A humble person stays grounded in the wisdom that each person has worth, and that each person has gifts and graces. A humble person knows that our society needs each of those gifts and graces, and is willing to learn from people of all walks of life. One man I know, who is now worth several million dollars, often wears shoes with no laces to remind himself that at one time he could not afford laces for his shoes. He KNOWS that he is no better, and no worse, than anybody else.

· Serves a higher purpose. One of the best ways to maintain integrity and remain humble is to realize that we are each here in this life for a purpose. Frederick Buechner states, “A person’s call is where their deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need.” Some people are called to social services, others to retail, others to technical professions, others to cutting hair or driving taxis, and others as stay-at-home parents. Persons who are serving a higher purpose receive deep peace, which affirms their choices and gives them the ability to keep on keeping on when the going gets difficult. Intentionally serving a higher purpose enables them to help others to seek their own higher purpose, because it removes the element of competition from the conversation.

This, and the 6 additional traits of effective leadership which will be covered in future blogs, are based on Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, by James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick.

I welcome your reaction, your feedback, your thoughts

Gary Langenwalter


Our governor has been asked to resign by top leaders because issues “have resulted in a loss of the people’s trust.” Governor Kitzhaber is not alone – countless corporate leaders have been forced to resign because of lack of trust. Arthur Andersen and Goldman Sachs went out of business because of untrustworthy behavior.

Trust is essential for a leader to be effective. The best leaders – those whose organizations outperform their competitors by 2.5 to 1 – are honest, trustworthy, authentic, and humble, according to ground-breaking research by James Sipe and Don Frick.

On a broader scale, trust is absolutely essential for our society to operate. The Boy Scout Law states, “A Scout is Trustworthy” as its first attribute. We have to be able to trust that the other person will stop at a stop sign, that the food we buy in a grocery store or restaurant will be healthy and safe to eat, that the internet company will indeed ship the product that we just paid for (and that the manufacturer has made a product that will work according to specification), that the medicine will cure the illness.

How does a person create trust? By keeping one’s word. However, our word is often a promise of future action, dependent on actions of others. I’m co-teaching a certification class for APICS, the operations management association. We had a spirited discussion last night about the continual reschedules caused by late/incomplete deliveries from suppliers, quality not meeting spec, people not showing up for their shift, customers not ordering as they promised, etc.

But reschedules due to extrinsic causes are very different from loss of trust due to lack of integrity. Violating ethical boundaries destroys the very foundation of a relationship. Because are unable to trust the person again for a long time, if ever, they have lost their ability to influence us. In that situation, a leader can no longer be effective as a leader, because the job of leadership is influencing others.

What’s your reaction? How important is trust to being an effective leader?

Gary Langenwalter