Character: What it means to a Leader

By | July 17, 2019

[July 17, 2019] Abraham Lincoln once said that any man could withstand adversity but to “test a man’s character, give him power.” This is a visionary idea from a great man, but by no means new. It has long been recognized, long before recorded history, that the make-up of a person – their mental and ethical traits – comprises a person’s integrity, virtues, and values.

Undoubtedly, the study of character is complicated because the subject is both vast and at the pinnacle of importance for any society. To better understand character, it is best to start with a reading of ancient texts. Those ancient writings which survived are also those that were thought to be of the highest order of importance; as in religious publications (e.g., the Bible and Torah), as well as, Greek and Chinese philosophy.

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, ancient Roman statesman, and philosopher

It is the belief of many that a person’s character is inborn. After many years of study, I believe that there is some merit to this position, but I’m also not so pessimistic to believe that we are all trapped by destiny. One’s character can be built or changed; albeit slowly and with conscious intent. Good character is not formed in a few days but over a protracted time and with patience and foresight.

Some of the traits, universally recognized, that help define a leader’s “good” character are: integrity, honesty, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and courage. A few skills that create character in the best leaders are fairness, empowerment, accountability, communicator, commitment, and the ability to inspire. Others, like me, also add that a good leader also has a sense of humor, a positive disposition, embraces failure, listens to what others have to say, cares about people, knows right from wrong, and leads by example.

That last paragraph is certainly a mouthful and not easy to get our head’s around. It should come as no surprise that leadership is not an easy road to travel. Every leader, regardless of how great or well thought of by others, struggles with the same challenge; to bring people together for a common cause and inspire them to do the best they can.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Character: What it means to a Leader

  1. Gil Johnson

    Good luck with your Boy Scout campout this week. I’m looking forward to your analysis and lessons learned while there. I looked up the weather in southern New Jersey and it looks like you’ve got another hot and humid day ahead of you. Stay cool and hydrated.

    1. Jerry C. Jones

      Best of luck and keep those boys working hard so they don’t get homesick.

    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      People with good character genuinely care about the people they work with.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Help is there for the taking. Character is something that starts development when you are a young child. If you are ‘bad’ at 4 years old, then odds are you will be ‘bad’ at 40 years old. You can, however, change but it will take more and more effort the older you are. So, get on it NOW.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Great comment and words of wisdom for us all to follow.

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    If you want to be a leader and learn quickly, then join the US Army in one of their combat branches. This is the fastest ticket to get there.. They will help you but ultimately, it’s up to you to succeed.

  4. Yusaf from Texas

    Agree with you Gen. Satterfield that this is a ‘vast and complex’ topic but must be explored and broken down into it’s component parts. Well written. A blog post that should be read by all.

    1. Albert Ayer

      If you don’t read, you are not a leader.
      If you don’t study leadership, you are not a leader.
      If you stand on your title alone, you are not a leader.
      Too many are not leaders who have no clue but they still hold positions of power over others.
      The problem is that they are not real leaders.

  5. The Kid 1945

    Gen. Satterfield, I see you have an entire mini-series on “character.” Over 100 articles .. wow! I highly recommend others read what you’ve written and take the time to absorb the wisdom you offer. My wife and I are regular readers (and commenters) of your blog and enjoy passing along the little nuggets of wisdom to our kids.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      I’ve been reading this blog now for nearly 3 years and have enjoyed each and every article. Even those that are somewhat “boring” (sorry, but some are), still have a lesson that should be taken at face value. I do appreciate this blog and, in addition, I appreciate those who write and help fill in the blanks. Repetition matters.

      1. Eric Coda

        Leadership with good character brings a spirit of excellence.

    2. Xerxes I

      Yes, for someone like me (who is intellectually not fast), repetition helps get the lesson into my head.

  6. Army Captain

    Exceptional article, thanks. Character is everything that matters regardless of skill level.

    1. Scotty Bush

      Thumbs up on your comment. Without ‘character’ we have nothing.

    2. Greg Heyman

      Well said. But if you grow up feeling that the world owes you something, then you are in for an unpleasant surprise.

      1. Maureen S.

        I’m not so sure. There are today too many professionals that acquiesce to those who are weak and willingly want to pull down our society.

    3. Harry B. Donner

      So true! I recommend regular reading of this and other leadership blogs.

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