Character and Leadership

There are two things required of someone who seeks leadership:  competence and character.  While both are important the character of a person is often a better predictor of long term success than competence.  Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological  Seminary believes that approximately 70 percent of leaders do not finish well.  He agrees that leaders can do rather well for themselves through their skills alone, but the leader whose skills are greater than his or her character will eventually falter.

As a small business owner you create the environment in which your company conducts its business.  Every business, like every other organization, has a culture, and the owner of small businesses determine what that culture will be.  We do not have the luxury of hiding behind “company policy.”  We created that policy.  We cannot blame some faceless “they” because “they” are us.  We model the type of behavior and character that we expect from others on our team, and that becomes an important part of our brand.

The phone rang one day in our business, and as I started to answer it one of my employees said, “If it’s my wife I’m not here.”  The two of them had an argument that morning before he came to work, and he didn’t want to talk to her.  It so happened that it was her, and when she asked if he was there I said he was and told him to pick up the line.  When he later hung up he was not very happy with me.  He said, “I told you to tell her I wasn’t here.”  I looked at him and said, “If I’ll lie for you, I’ll lie to you.  Is that the type of company you want to work for?”  He looked at me for a moment and walked off.  I wanted him, and everyone else on our team, to know that they could expect the truth from me even when it wasn’t pleasant, and I expected the same from them.

As some of you know, during the years I ran our business I was also the pastor of a small church in our community.  We did some work for another pastor who was very slow to pay us.  He was well past 90 days late paying his bill, and some wanted me to take him to small claims court for payment.  I refused to do so on biblical grounds.  The Bible teaches that Christians are not to take other Christians to court.  I know that is a teaching that many Christian business people ignore as not a good business practice, but I felt strongly that it would be wrong for me to sue him for the money he owed.  Probably two or three more months went by before he came in and paid his bill in full.  We received our money, my relationship with my fellow pastor remained intact, and I did not violate a biblical principle.  I realize this would be not a recommended business practice, but I felt that it was part of the climate I wanted for our company.

The Golden Rule is always the safe option when one is confronted with an issue in his or her business.  If you were on the other side, how would you want to be treated?   Then that is how you should treat others.  If you would want grace, you must extend grace.  If you want people to be honest with you, you must be honest in your words and actions.  If you want respect, you must be respectful to others.  This is how one demonstrates character in his or her life and is how a culture of honesty and integrity is created in a business.  Such character will allow you to enjoy genuine success over the long term and make your small business a good place to work and with which to do business.

For an in-depth look at this issue I would highly recommend The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and InfluenceThis very uplifting book explains how character enables you to have greater influence in your business, your home, and every other area of your life.

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