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leadership character courage

After giving a talk about the importance of character in leadership, a participant told me he was intrigued with our blog’s tagline of “redefining power, performance, and connection at the intersection of the art of leadership and the science of business” and our concept of leaders with character and courage who manage paradox.

He asked for a “cheat sheet” of things that someone who wants to lead with character and courage and manage paradox does.

Here’s the list I gave him.


5 things leaders with character know, believe, and do


1. Be self-aware and open.

Getting in touch with what we fail to notice about ourselves and others is a crucial first step in becoming a head-and-heart-connected leader. Ask people for feedback, and actively listen to what they share. Look for patterns in the advice you’ve received over the years. Act on what you discover. Take and/or make the time to connect with others to understand their point of view and heart direction. Acknowledge your fears without letting them rule your life. Radiate positive energy and determination.

2.  Embrace ethical norms and behavioral ideals.

One can do well, show kindness, be principled, and still be as effective as all get-out. Dare to be honorable and kind and encourage those around you to do the same. There’s more to business than just the bottom line—focus on people, principles, and profits. Walk the talk for being good and doing well. Show ethics and integrity that are above reproach as they’re based in authenticity, honesty, transparency, and a moral center. Treat those with and those without power the same. Invite the elephant in the room to dance.

3.  Engage the world and perform beyond self-interest.

I’m fond of saying that effective head-and-heart leaders wire themselves to think more of we and less of me. Every day, a character-based leader consciously balances the conflicts between selfish and selfless behavior. They get that life is an enormous merry-go-round of paradoxes and have learned to look to the greater good in managing these conflicting yet complementary tensions. Take a stand for what’s good and what’s right, even if doing so is unpopular.

4.   Treat people as ends, not as means.

While interviewing someone for an article about bad bosses, the interviewee told me her boss made her feel like a file cabinet—something utilitarian and easily replaced. Is that what you want your leadership legacy to be? If not, treat people with kindness, respect, and manage them with tough empathy that comes from your heart and head.

5.  Envision both what is and what can be.

A forward-thinking mission that engages people’s minds and moves their heart is a powerful combination, one that few people can resist. 


Leadership is a form of power with people, one that moves people beyond self-interest and interlocks them into a quest for the good of their group, organization and/or society. It’s an outreached hand that invites people to participate, be engaged, and make a difference…all because they matter.

What would you add to the list?