Two Foundations for Leadership

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I have spent close to 20 years in the personal and professional study of leadership. And believe me there is a lot written about it. There are over 479 million hits on Google using the keyword leadership.  On Amazon.com there are currently 121,231 books you could order related to the topic. In many ways it is wonderful to have so much information available, but in other ways it’s overwhelming.

I am also a father of six children and I have many hopes for them: to pick up their clothes, share their toys, and eat their dinner, and over the long term, to become mature adults, find a meaningful career, marry well, love others and be loved themselves, etc. But one of my greatest hopes is to cultivate virtuous leadership within them. What do I mean by this?

In my study and application of leadership I find that there are two approaches; one is primarily technique based and the other primarily character based. The technical approach involves skills, tools, frameworks, and templates in a whole host of important leadership settings. These might include things like giving a speech, making a plan, running a meeting, and working in a team. These are very important elements of effective leadership. In many ways these might be summed up as “what a leader does.”

The character-based approach involves something very personal, something we might describe as “who a leader is.” It’s harder to describe using finite activities because it transcends specific activities and extends to a leader’s make up, their character, their virtues or lack of virtue, their thinking, and their worldview.

I believe that successful leaders develop both the technical and character-based aspects of their leadership but all leaders make a foundational choice. People either choose to put character as the foundation of their leadership or they choose to put technique as the foundation. This decision, whether conscious or unconscious, is the single most important factor in determining the long term success of a leader. It will orient their study of leadership, their consistency and effectiveness, their response in the face of adversity and difficulties, and ultimately, their influence in people’s lives.

As a father my hope is to cultivate character and virtue as the foundation for my children’s leadership development. My next post will explain why, and subsequent posts will introduce further reflections on leadership. In the meantime, think about your own development as a leader. Have you set your leadership foundation on character or on technique?

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