Glenn Williams

by Glenn Williams


Deconstructing character

All of us, at some point, have been frustrated at the ineptitude of some leaders. This is especially true when their actions have revealed an overt attitude of ‘what’s in it for me?’, or self-preservation, at the expense of others.

This frustration only increases when we have a perception that nothing can be done to address the lack of character shown by the people in leadership with the ability to affect our wellbeing.

A discussion on character, or values, may not be as riveting as the latest sales techniques, marketing strategies, or innovative product ideas. However, early Greek thought suggests, it is something we shouldn’t ignore.

Although not comprehensive, below are six perspectives leaders need to hold in careful tension as they contemplate the relationship between character in their lives and how it is expressed through their leadership:

  1. The notion of individual responsibility and responsibility to the wider community.
  2. A person’s experience of truth and the existence of an objective, along with a universal morality that is shared by others.
  3. The presence of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
  4. Pursuing an ethic of virtue that is attainable and yet never fully achieved.
  5. Being virtuous and doing (or demonstrating) virtuous acts.
  6. What can be taught or learned and what must come, as Socrates says, from “divine dispensation” because we are not capable of achieving the ideal of virtue from a position that is quickly corrupted by our self-interest.

Like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) believed our intellect gives us the ability to choose virtue or vice, and that it is ultimately the gift of grace that enables us to achieve ‘greater’ goals in place of self-centered ones.[i] This is founded on his belief that our “mind is guided naturally by wisdom and supernaturally by faith.”[ii]

In many cultures—particularly in the West—this worldview is not an easy thing to accept; we compartmentalize the physical from the spiritual, our intellect from our emotions, our work life from our personal life and our public life from our private life; character, however, should permeate through all of them.

What’s the bottom-line?

We know that a lack of character in one area of a leader’s life quickly infects other areas in his or her life and, therefore, it is understandable that people begin to lose faith in their leaders when this happens. After all, their character is not seen to be resilient or trustworthy.

Below are some questions for further reflection:

  • What would it look like if my life were totally congruent with my values?
  • How would I describe my personal brand? Is it consistent with my organization’s brand, or are they in conflict? What steps can I take to align them?
  • How do my values help me to sustain a high level of performance?

[i] Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Publishing, 2010), 124.

[ii] Nullens and Michener, 125.


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