Leadership Through Character Building


“I have 3 treasures that I hold and keep. The first is mercy for from mercy come courage. The second is frugality from which comes generosity to others. The third is humanity for from it come leadership.”

(Source: These are the words that the wise and blind Master Po spoke his beloved pupil  Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s TV show “Kung Fu – Sun and Cloud Shadow”)

Leadership cannot be learnt through workshops or classroom room training. To some people, these are for those who wanted to attend holiday camps at the expenses of their employers and to escape work.

Companies must continue where the schools and tertiary institutions left off, in the character moulding of their employees. It is then that they can have an opportunity to find and build a pool of leaders for succession planning.

What is Character?

Ray Nash, the President of Police Dynamics Institute Inc in his article “The Benefits of Good Character.”( http://eyeofeagle.files.wordpress.com)  Defined character as “the inward motivation to do what is right, regardless of the circumstances… and regardless of the cost. It springs from the heart and is revealed by what a person does, even when no one is looking”

(1)          Building character is not like building a machine or a product. It is not a task one complete in a day, a week, or a year. Building character takes a lifetime.

(2)          Character transcends age, position, financial status, race, education, gender, and personality. It affects your decisions, words, attitudes, goals, relationships, and actions.

(3)          A person’s character is reshaped by the choices he or she makes and the principles by which he or she choose to live. New characteristics are developed by deliberately changing one’s old patterns of thought and behavior.

(4)          The 6 pillars of character as applied to the workplace, that are defined by the Josephson Institute’s Center for Youth Ethics (www.charactercounts.org) are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Examples of Lack of Character in the Workplace

Laurie Reeves of Demand Media wrote an article “A List of Four Examples of Character in the Workplace” for “the nest” digital magazine. Here are the extracts.

(1)          Disrespectful – Lack of character displays itself in the way that a person treats other people, especially people who are more vulnerable. A workplace bully is an example of a person without character.

(2)          Dishonesty – The person would no more think of stealing a pen, as she or he would think of stealing money from a bank. A dishonest person cannot be counted on to tell the truth in any situation.

(3)          Unreliable – Unreliability in the workplace places a burden on the employer and on your co-workers, who have to step in to do unreliable employee’s  job.

(4)          Manipulation – A manipulator uses other people to achieve his own ends. He doesn’t think that what he is doing is wrong, because along with being a manipulator, he is self-absorbed. Manipulators exploit the weaknesses in others and take advantage of others and situations whenever they can.

Benefits of Implementing A Company Wide Character Initiative

Ray Nash said that “Applying character-based principles in a strategic fashion allows you as a leader to address the daily challenges that are character related. Organizations and government agencies currently implementing character initiatives are experiencing up to a 90% decrease in employee turnover, absenteeism, workers’ compensation costs and work-related injuries……..employees are demonstrating increased loyalty, enthusiasm, creativity, productivity, personal responsibility, and willingness to serve.”

Company Driven Character Initiative

You may wish to know that most job-related training programs are competency-based, not character-based.

Toxic Bosses and Co-Workers

When we try to identify the types of toxic bosses or co-workers, we are really talking about people with dysfunctional character.

Alan Norton wrote in the article “10 Toxic Characters You Will Meet On The Job” published on www.techrepublic.com on 15 May 2011: “They make the job of their associates more difficult. Some managers are blind to toxic behavior. Other managers ignore it in the hope that it will go away on its own. It rarely does. If it’s not identified and dealt with, negative attitudes can quickly spread to others. Toxic behavior is most destructive in a team environment, but it can spread regardless of the offender’s role in the company.”

From my professional experience, there are a few points that we should note about the toxic work-place and toxic co-workers:

(1)          It is a learning experience to be able to recognize a toxic work place and toxic co-workers.

(2)          Writers have written tips to deal with the toxic co-worker but there are very little HR policies and tools to deal with them.

(3)          It would be useful if performance appraisal could also cover traits (characters) and not just competencies.

(4)          Toxic colleagues might not necessarily hold lower positions nor get lower performance ratings.

(5)          People with personality disorders may be present in the workplace. They contribute to a dysfunctional workplace. Hence people in power always needs to be check for how they treat people.

(6)          Companies and governments need to have some means to spot untrustworthy colleagues or Cains not only because they are the career saboteurs but also because they can steal customers, distributorships and so on.

(7)          Managers are found and not made.

It Takes Moral Courage

When the organizational culture of our workplace is selfish and self-serving, it takes moral courage to continue to do what is right. There is a higher risk of being displaced or character assassinated.

Leslie E. Sekerka, described someone with professional moral courage on 3 March 2011 for Character First – The Magazine (www.cfthemagazine.com) as “Someone who consistently strives to do the right thing, by drawing upon personal, professional, and organizational moral principles and, despite the potential threat to self, goes beyond compliance to achieve a moral action, engaging in a response that is based on virtuous motives. “. She pointed out that there are 5 themes in this description:

(1)    Moral Agency: possess a predisposition to engage as a moral agent

(2)    Multiple Values: uses multiple value sets to determine right action

(3)    Endures Threat: faces danger or threat, yet pursues action

(4)   Beyond Compliance: applies rules but also goes beyond compliance to consider

what is right, just, and appropriate

(5)    Moral Goal: drive to complete the task action with the application of virtues to

realize a virtuous outcome.


Being bullied or oppressed, quitting your job is a commonly suggested solution but not a useful nor socially acceptable one.

[print-me target=”#post-%ID%” title=”Print This Article”]