Blog Post: Character and Leadership

Character and Leadership

By Ed DeRoche

When you deal with human beings in leadership situations, you deal with what is essential to the study of leadership, namely, moral and ethical issues. Through the study of lives, one finds out how individuals have confronted specific actions and decisions relating to leadership positions. – James MacGregor Burns, December 4, 2004

The film “Lincoln” is the talk of the town. It has resurrected an interest in the leadership styles of presidents, a topic that has been written about by many historians and leadership scholars. We offer an undergraduate course on the topic. The film confirms my readings about Lincoln’s character— integrity, trust, honesty, fairness, a “sharing leader”(Burns’ term) along with a strong sense of values, a commitment to them (example: liberty and equality), and the ability to communicate (persuade). Lincoln’s “approach shows that truth is a common denominator for all interactions, among any group, and with people of varying personalities.” (D. Phillips, Lincoln On Leadership.)

While there are no specific formulas for successful, effective leadership, there are guidelines that potential and current leaders should not ignore. Studying Lincoln would be a good place to start. Other examples are worth investigating as well.

“Character,” according to Zenger and Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader)

is “the center pole, the core of leadership effectiveness.” Greenstein (The Presidential Difference) offers six qualities (might they be called “character traits?”) related to the leadership styles and performances of presidents. These are public communication, organizational capacity, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence

Historian and presidential scholar, Robert Dallek’s “Lessons from the Lives and Times of Presidents,” describes seven factors that distinguish effective and ineffective presidential leadership – vision, pragmatism, charisma, consensus, trust, judgment, and luck. Notice the “character factors” specified or implied—trust, perseverance, integrity, respect, responsibility, etc.

The Turknett Leadership Group ( offers the “Leadership Character Model” stating that “Leadership is about character – who you are not what you do.” The model includes three core qualities as the keys of “leadership character”:

Integrity — honesty, credibility, trustworthiness. “Without integrity, no leader can be successful.”

Respect — empathy, lack of blame, motivational mastery, humility. “Respect helps create a culture of partnership and teamwork.”

Responsibility — self-confidence, accountability, focus on the whole, courage. “Great leaders accept full responsibility for personal success and for the success of projects, teams, and the entire organization.”

Those of you in the education profession are “character educators.” You deal with “moral and ethical issues” everyday. You are also educational leaders positioned at all levels—in the classroom, at the school, in central office, in your professional community, and in the public arena.

It might be wise to examine who you are (your character and values), how you perform (your skills and talents), and how you lead (sharing, partnerships, team-building).