The Character of Leadership

By Sarros, James C.; Cooper, Brian K. et al. | Ivey Business Journal Online, May/June 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Character of Leadership

Sarros, James C., Cooper, Brian K., Santora, Joseph C., Ivey Business Journal Online

Scratch the surface of a true leader, or look beneath his or her personality, and you'll find character. The traits and values that make up the character of a good business leader are, for the most part, similar to those that make up the character of an outstanding citizen. These authors describe the traits and values that make up the character of leadership.

I have a dream today . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Speech on steps of Lincoln Memorial

Civil Rights March

23 August 1963

Character has come in from the cold. Once the poor cousin of clinical psychology and behavioural studies, character is once again recognized as a critically important component of personality and therefore, of what makes people tick. Its importance to leadership is considerable.

Character in leadership

Not surprisingly, the importance of the character of leadership is making inroads in the business world, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the major manufacturer of health care products in the United States, views character as a leadership essential. Former Chairman Ralph Larsen believes that people with character can give a company a significant competitive advantage. The company actively seeks to recruit and be represented by people of exceptional character. Johnson & Johnson's stance is supported by research which suggests that in leadership, good character counts. According to Frances Hesselbein, the author and chairman of the Drucker Foundation, leadership that achieves results goes beyond how to be, and becomes how to do; this type of leadership is all about character. So in other words, in order to get things done personally and organizationally, one first needs to get in touch with his or her character.

Leaders with character achieve results that transcend everyday organizational imperatives and outcomes. A study of world leaders over the past 150 years asserts that managers who possess strong character will create a better world for everyone, while leadership generally is vital to the social, moral, economic, and political fabrics of society.

For example, Theresa Gattung is the CEO of Telecom NZ, a New Zealand telecommunications company. Her candour about her vulnerabilities, as well as her philosophy on leadership, has won her the admiration of her male colleagues. She recognizes that good leadership consists more of character than personality:

"When I went to management school 20 years ago, I thought it was about personality, desire, determination, and a little bit of technique. I didn't actually realise it was about character, and that struck me more as I have gone along . . . The leaders whom people respect and will follow have the characteristics of being themselves, of being passionate about what they are doing, communicating that in a heartfelt way that touches hearts."

However, we often take the character of leadership for granted. We expect good leaders to be strong in character, that is, to have a moral imperative underwrite their actions. These leaders with character have been identified as authentic leaders: They are what they believe in; show consistency between their values, ethical reasoning and actions; develop positive psychological states such as confidence, optimism, hope, and resilience in themselves and their associates; and are widely known and respected for their integrity.

Nonetheless, the key attributes of authentic leaders, or leaders with character, remain problematic. To identify these attributes and better understand them, we undertook a study. This paper is based on that study and in it we identify the three underlying dimensions of leadership character - universalism, transformation, and benevolence. We also suggest ways of further enhancing these dimensions and their constituent attributes.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Character of Leadership


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?