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4 senses of character-based leadership

4 min read


Too often, I read blog posts or engage in discussions where different definitions of leadership are present.

One definition of leadership implies position. It states that the person in the position of leadership is the leader.  If they’re “in charge” or “at the top” or “where the buck stops,” then they’re the leader.  Their position is the reason we grant them influence over us.  That’s positional leadership.

Another type of leadership; my favorite type, is no respecter of position. I call this character-based leadership. Character-based leaders are people who have chosen to adopt a leader’s mindset, regardless of their position in the organization.  Anyone can be a character-based leader. Their character, their “who-they-are” will not let them simply go with the flow or “do whatever.”  They decide they will be a leader to the extent they are able.

It takes a number of talents and, possibly, a great deal of luck, timing and positioning to be a position-based leader. You have to get a position. Many people work years to achieve a position. Someone must put you in it or you simply take it.  But either way, a number of factors impact your ability to get a position of leadership.

To be a character-based leader, you only need four things I’d call senses. Any one of these senses is proof that anyone can be a character-based leader. If you have two or three, you may even have some influence in your homeowners association or in your workplace.  But to be a great character-based leader, you’ll need all four.

4 senses of character-based leadership

Sense of mission: What are we trying to accomplish? Without accomplishment, there is no need for a leader. Leadership implies motion. Motion without direction is wasted. Your purpose will pull you into your future. A great mission calls you to its hope.  Your efforts will affect, maybe even create, the future.

Sense of urgency: If there is no urgency, if the thing can be done “whenever,” then there is little need for leadership. Great missions are those that must be done and they must be done soon. Great causes must be achieved as soon as possible. Without a sense of urgency and you may never reach your goal. Urgency is the key to great customer service.  Check out “A Sense of Urgency” by John P. Kotter for a wonderful book on the topic.

Sense of responsibility: Responsibility is the understanding not only that something must be done, but also that you must do it.  Often, we’re not very accurate or wise when it comes to what we must do. We delegate too little or too much. We give people the power to make us fail, or we withhold the resources necessary for others’ success. An objective sense of responsibility is necessary to good leadership.

Sense of service: If your mission serves only yourself or a small crowd, you have no chance of becoming a great leader. Great leaders serve great people in worthwhile causes. Great leaders often must overcome great difficulty to achieve great service.  There is no great work unless it benefits others. Include just one other person in your objective, do something simply for their benefit, and in that moment you elevate your own mission, leadership and responsibility.

If you don’t have all four senses, don’t worry. You can develop them. In fact, I bet those closest to you can already see signs of all four (or they wouldn’t stick around). Find your greatest mission, focus your energy toward that mission, and you will develop the other senses. Don’t let anything stop you. You can make 2014 the year you develop all four senses and become a great character-based leader.

Mike Henry Sr. is the chief instigator of the Lead Change Group, a global non-profit community dedicated to instigating a leadership revolution. He’s also one of 21 co-authors of “The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution… One Person at a Time.” Connect with Henry on Twitter @mikehenrysr and on LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+.