Character and Leadership


Monkey BusinessHow much monkey business can we tolerate in a leader? What is the connection between leadership and character? Can a political leader with a disreputable character govern wisely? Can a leader be a cad and still be a leader? Some not so nice people still do good work - think of badly behaved artists. 

Some people are so dedicated to their work they neglect interpersonal relations. We still admire great art or music even if the artist is a disreputable character.An unethical political leader could, similarly, do a good job of governing a country. It is possible to separate your personal life from your work And having personal problems need not prevent you from governing wisely.

Leadership and Morality

  • We expect our leaders to set a moral example for us, unlike artists.
  • A leader who sets a poor example, therefore, is hardly a leader.
  • The leader of a country must uphold the moral standards of its citizens.
  • What is the connection between leadership and integrity? Occupying a position of power over people means that everyone in that group must trust the leader.

Leadership and Character

  • Political leaders are often charismatic, socially skilled and attractive.
  • We like leaders with these traits but having them does not make them good administrators.
  • Such leaders naturally focus on more exciting activities.
  • Conversely, less attractive people may have the skills needed to be good administrators.
  • We get the leaders we ask for by voting for the more charismatic types.
  • Then we expect them to turn off their natural characteristics and be good administrators.
  • We should elect leaders for their results and management skills.

Is Leadership a Role?

The question of leadership and character assumes that leadership is a role because it is roles that imply responsibilities. Roles like father, mother, teacher, lighthouse keeper, captain, etc all have certain responsibilities. But if leadership isn't a role but an act or impact like influence, then character is not part of the meaning of leadership. If so, we need to say that executives are managers who sometimes SHOW leadership. Thus managers, being role occupants, need to be of good character.

Is there then no connection between character traits and leadership then? Leadership is actually value neutral because we need to explain how criminals and terrorists can also lead. Leadership occurs when people follow, regardless of the leader's character. However, you can't lead certain people on certain issues unless you have the right character. This means that character traits are part of what makes up your abiity to influence people. For example, you couldn't show leadership on stamping out corruption if you were corrupt yourself.

Where do you want to go from here?

Want to read more on the relationship between vision and leadership? If leadership isn't just an influence process, then it's a role in a hierarchy, but this is biologically primitive. See Primitive Leadership for more on this topic. For more discussion of how leadership can work as influence, see Thought LeadershipBottom-up Leadership and Organic Leadership.

For more unconventional thinking on leadership see our sister site LEAD2XL