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In this article series, I have often written about leadership. These topics have covered a wide range of things pertaining to leadership: diversity [1],  love [2], disruption [3], education [4], and the strategic directions that leaders must take for the Industry 4.0 transformation [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]. Within these articles, only one took a hard look at the fundamental conditions and requirements for leadership, Leader[LOVE]ship [2]. Today we take a look at another very important characteristic that is a conditio sine qua non (a condition without which the thing cannot exist) for leadership.

 

In all the articles cited above, leadership is a cornerstone for an innovation culture [12] to develop within an enterprise (or university). Additionally, given UPAEP’s mission and vision for development, training leaders is at the core of our mission. [13] It therefore becomes fundamental to establish the conditions under which leadership can and should be developed.

 

When delving into a concept as fraught with cultural diversity, evolving terms and definitions, and varied perspectives as leadership is in the business world, one way to get at least some grasp on the evolving attitudes is to look at the cultural zeitgeist around the topic through the years. After 29 years and over 10,700 individual pieces of satire, parody, commentary, and comedy, a quick (if not academically traditional) way to get a snapshot of this cultural zeitgeist surrounding a given business topic is the vast archive of business-related writing by Scott Adams and his character Dilbert.  One surprising early association was that leadership is usually used as a substitution for manager. As we’ll focus on later, these two words should not be used interchangeably. Back in the mid 90’s, the satirical association to leader-manager was one of incompetence, lack of practical knowledge, and cluelessness as to employee sentiment. In the 00’s, this association took a darker turn considering the manager-leader as no longer inept, but instead deliberately humiliating, valuing loyalty over competence, and finally in the 10’s we seem to settle into a combination of  various prior characteristics such as cluelessness, inflated ego and sense of self-worth, with less outright cruelty and humiliation (here, here, here, and here).

 

This dive into the zeitgeist surrounding the concept of leader-manager in business, though amusing, highlights a profound cultural problem when dealing with leadership and management. The free interchangeability of these concepts is not limited to the USA and its comedy. A very cultural example in Mexico arises from the intriguing use of the word “presidium” to denote the place where guests of honor are seated at an official function. As the discussion over at the Cervantes institute states, it is a largely Mexican affectation, especially to denote the presence of local guests of honor, managers or leadership. In much of the rest of the world, the word has been relegated to describing an executive ruling body, primarily in communist countries. Another cultural example is in the standard legal terms in Mexico which continue to identify the employer as “patrón”. While this often gets translated as “employer”, it is much more closely related to patron (as in patron of the artist) or master (master of the settlement or plantation). The usage of this word in Mexico harkens all the way back to the colonial days and in my opinion should have been abolished long ago as it tends to reinforce the denigrating workplace hierarchies perpetuated in the hacienda model of farming (not unlike the plantation models elsewhere).

 

While this seems a long detour for a precise topic, leadership and character, it is important to establish that there is a very widespread and cross-cultural misappropriation and shoddy application of the word “leader” and a confusion with many other descriptions of power and management. That is not to say that a single, great, perfect definition exists. Nevertheless, we will attempt to contribute to this conversation and leave it for the reader to continue their own reflection on the matter given the evidence and discussions.

 

We could start with fundamental definitions, though they are often not very helpful (Merriam-Webster, Oxford English dictionary).For the concept “leadership”, Merriam-Webster comes through with something much more intriguing: “capacity to lead”.

 

We can begin to see the complexity of this definition – as well as the inability to define a single universally-accepted concept for leadership. What gives an individual “capacity”? Even the theories behind leadership have been unable to agree as to the fundamental conditions that lead to leadership. This potpourri of ideas includes such disparate theories as: traits and the innate abilities of an individual, behavioral modification, situational, contingency, zeitgeist, and integrative theories which combine traits, environment, education, and behavioral approaches. [14]

 

With this, the very important notion of character finally comes to bear on our discussion. As Merriam-Webster defines it, character is “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person…” as well as “moral excellence or firmness”. To date, the world has not settled upon a universal description of “moral excellence”, or even a singular framework for morality and ethics. One could argue until the heat death of the universe upon these things and not arrive at a single unified and universally-accepted standard. However, for the purpose of this work I will concede this definition as culturally- or socially-dependent.

 

To recap, a leader must have the capacity to lead and demonstrates this ability through leadership. This leadership can have a wide range of components, but among these components are those which can be innate to an individual as well as cultivated or tempered by the individual. Among these components and qualities is the wide net cast by the concept of character.

 

I believe that the decision on the character component is a cornerstone for much of the rest of the construction of an argument for a specific kind of leadership. If character does not matter, then generally the individual mental and ethical traits and moral excellence of the individual do not matter as components within leadership. This relegates one to leadership models which are based on circumstances and culture such as situational and zeitgeist models.

 

In fulfilling our institutional mission to train leaders who will have an impact on our culture or society [13], it is crucial we answer this question – does character matter? While it may be academically possible to make the choice in the negative – the very foundation upon which UPAEP is built is founded upon a recognition of an aspirational condition seeking “moral excellence” in humanity. As such, it would be contrary to our institutional mission to ignore character in our definition, education, cultivation, and promotion of leadership.

 

We are far from alone in this conversation on character. Kerr states that true leadership is all about character. [15] Other authors have created lists of leadership qualities that I believe can be mostly brought back to our two leadership concepts established thus far: love and character, with an additional characteristic that will be the subject of a future article, competence. I call all three of these conditio sine qua non for leadership. There may be others, but for now we can use this framework to examine one such article in the table below:

 

 

 

8 Essential Qualities That Define Great Leadership by Fries [16]

Quality

Leadership Characteristic

Sample justification for the classification

Sincere Enthusiasm

Character and Love

There is a strong ethical component to sincerity, with the belief that truth, openness, and clarity are values worth holding fast. An important reason sincerity matters is the respect for the people with whom the sincerity is being exercised. The enthusiasm component values the happiness with which those being led may engage with what is being transmitted.

Integrity

Character and Love

As with sincerity, integrity comes from a strong ethical background which values keeping to certain stated values and ethical positions. It further recognizes that those who are affected by these choices matter and deserve that integrity.

Great Communication Skills

Love and Competence

Communication does not require a fundamental technical competence or ability – but only the most competent will be able to communicate complex issues clearly and effectively. The need to do so also stems from the understanding that those receiving the communication deserve that clarity and effort.

Loyalty

Character and Love

Loyalty is the combination of a strong ethical background which holds to this value, as well as the recognition that there is value in others – enough to warrant holding that loyalty even when the personal cost may be high.

Decisiveness

Character, Love, and Competence

Decisiveness is a complex character trait that can range from authoritarian to nonsensical. Decisiveness without denigrating the value and opinions of those involved with this choice is a position of love and respect for the other. Nevertheless, decisions without a competent foundation are merely nonsense or random guessing.

Managerial competence

Competence

While leaders can be managers, and many managers are leaders – one does not necessarily imply the other. Here, the author holds that the best leadership has a component of competence in the managerial arts.

Empowerment

Character, Love, and Competence

Empowerment acknowledges the value brought by others, is not jealous of their abilities or independence in thought and encourages the success of others through empowered action. However, it requires competence in the area to know whether the empowered people are making adequate or effective choices

Charisma

Character and Competence

While one can have lots of charisma with no specific competence beyond charisma and communication – the charisma of a good leaders stems from the security in one’s ability and decision-making process, the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and situations, and the ability to communicate effectively with others. An ethical charisma which values others also understands that charisma can be effective in leading, but used improperly can be coercive or domineering, manipulative, and controlling.

 

While the reader may easily agree or disagree with the specific categorizations I have listed and justified here, such a framework for analysis and discussion could be extended to many other classifications and form a basis for effective discussion. For example, Biro identifies integrity, trustworthiness, emotional intelligence, openness, and motivation as fundamental character qualities for leadership. [17] A mapping between these items and the framework in the table above could be argued, as well a new mapping to leadership characteristics.

 

Crossan et al. do a magnificent job of delving much more deeply into this subject of character as a defining characteristic of leadership, and I strongly encourage everyone to go read their article, “Developing Leadership Character”. [18] They identify good character as the sum of virtues, values, and traits in an individual. This correlates to our integrative approach to leadership theory, considering the combination of intrinsic traits and learned or acquired characteristics such as values and, to a certain extent, virtues. When studying leadership failure, they have come to identify the issues around character failings as a recurrent theme.

 

It is not easy to cultivate character – to self-study and critique and decide to take on the task of modifying and editing one’s own traits, values, and virtues. It’s not easy to mold and modify and seek to improve the ethical mold through which we try to fit our choices and decision. There is a quiet courage to this activity, and one which must be lauded in anyone undertaking this difficult, if necessary, task. [19]

 

A huge stumbling block to this character-building introspection is an overblown ego. Hougaard and Carter write a great article on the subject, “Ego is the enemy of good leadership” which I recommend absolutely as a part of this greater reflection upon how to go about cultivating a character that allows leadership to flourish. [20] Through the lens of UPAEP’s own internal character and guiding principles, we can see that leadership in a Christ-inspired model cannot be accomplished from a position of ego and selfishness.

 

“25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—" Matthew 20:25-27 [21]

 

We need leaders, and we are committed to training leaders. We must focus on character and ways to develop character. We must demand that leadership we train to forth into the world and those we retain within our own walls have strong showings of character, love, and competence. We must do this free of the burdens of ego, with a servant’s heart and a strong dedication to finding that moral excellence we desire for ourselves. It is not enough to be a manger, or someone who can get the job done. We aspire to more and greater things.

 

That’s a tall order. It can be intimidating or frightening. We will fail and flag along the way. But failure is not an option whose consequences I find appealing. I firmly believe that the dangerous and dizzying rise in populism around the world in its various forms and iterations, both left- and right-leaning, has a strong component of failed, twisted, or perverse “leadership” models. These twisted, failed models which value selfishness, simplistic managerial “skills”, nationalism, bombastic, inflammatory, and/or unfiltered diatribes masquerading as effective communication, protectionism, isolationism, and a fear and denigration of “other” over our identified fundamental leadership characteristics of love, character, and competence. The world is in dire need of leaders. At UPAEP, our most fundamental mission of training leaders to have a transformational impact in society challenges us to meet this need.

 

The world needs real, effective, and transformational leaders. We can be part of meeting that need, as can the many more who would follow in our example and footsteps. Let’s get to work.

 

 

 

References

 

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[1]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Innovation and Diversity: Tomorrow’s Leader on the World Stage," Graduate School, UPAEP, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018.

[2]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Leader[LOVE]ship," Graduate School, UPAEP, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://upress.mx/index.php/opinion/editoriales/innovacion-y-tecnologia/2955-leader-love-ship

[3]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Leadership in a disruption ecosystem," Graduate School, UPAEP, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://upress.mx/index.php/opinion/editoriales/innovacion-y-tecnologia/3325-leadership-in-a-disruption-ecosystem

[4]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Train Leaders," Graduate School, UPAEP, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://upress.mx/index.php/opinion/editoriales/innovacion-y-tecnologia/3111-training-leaders

[5]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "The University as a Strategic Partner in Industry 4.0," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://goo.gl/YX16Uj

[6]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0 and the University - Digital Trust," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://goo.gl/nXfCg7

[7]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0 and the University: Self-Study," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://goo.gl/QkgLgH

[8]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0 – A Call for Champions," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://upress.mx/index.php/opinion/editoriales/innovacion-y-tecnologia/2594-industry-4-0-a-call-for-champions

[9]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0: Anchors aweigh!," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://upress.mx/index.php/opinion/editoriales/innovacion-y-tecnologia/2696-industry-4-0-anchors-aweight

[10]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0: Failing Successfully," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online]. https://upress.mx/index.php/opinion/editoriales/innovacion-y-tecnologia/2644-industry-4-0-failing-successfully

[11]

PWC, "Global Industry 4.0 Survey," 2016. [Online]. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/industry-4.0.html

[12]

Ric Kelly. (2017, June) Entrepreneur. [Online]. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/280870

[13]

UPAEP, A.C., "Visión Rumbo al 50 Aniversario [Vision Toward the 50th Anniversary]," Office of the President, UPAEP, A.C., Puebla, 2015. [Online]. https://upaep.mx/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13400&Itemid=4

[14]

Bessie L. Marquis and Carol J. Huston, Leadership roles and management functions in nursing: theor and application, 6th ed., Elizabeth Nieginsky et al., Eds. Philadelphia, USA: Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009.

[15]

James Kerr, "5 Reasons True Leadership Is All About Character," Inc.com LEAD, Feb. 2016. [Online]. https://www.inc.com/james-kerr/leadership-in-a-nutshell.html

[16]

Kimberly Fries, "8 Essential Qualities That Define Great Leadership," Forbes, Feb. 2018. [Online]. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlyfries/2018/02/08/8-essential-qualities-that-define-great-leadership

[17]

Meghan M. Biro, "Are You A Character-Based Leader?," Forbes, Sep. 2012. [Online]. https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2012/09/30/are-you-a-character-based-leader/#18fe657119af

[18]

Mary Crossan et al., "Developing Leadership Character," Ivey Business Journal, 01-02 2012. [Online]. https://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/developing-leadership-character/

[19]

James R. Detert, "Cultivating Everyday Courage," Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2018. [Online]. https://hbr.org/2018/11/cultivating-everyday-courage

[20]

Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, "Ego Is the Enemy of Good Leadership," Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2018. [Online]. https://hbr.org/2018/11/ego-is-the-enemy-of-good-leadership

[21]

Biblica, Inc., Holy Bible, New International Version., 2011.

 

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