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Building Leader Character

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This blog was written by Maureen Metcalf, based on the article, Developing Leadership Character by Mary Crossan, Gerard Seijts, Jeffrey Gandz, published in the Ivey Business Journal Issues: January / February 2012. It is a companion to the International Leadership Association Interview Series on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future that aired on Tuesday, February 4, 2020, titled Leader Character.


In our rapidly changing world, that is filled with disruption and ethical challenges, leadership character is critical. According to the article, Developing Leadership Character, “When it comes to leadership, competencies determine what a person can do. Commitment determines what they want to do, and character determines what they will do.”

“Character fundamentally shapes how we engage the world around us, what we notice, what we reinforce, who we engage in conversation, what we value, what we choose to act on, how we decide…and the list goes on.” While there is no generally accepted definition of character, Mary Crossan and her co-authors focus on personality traits, values, and virtues as the focus of virtue-based character in their article, Developing Leader Character. They also highlight the importance of Judgment which is at the centre of their leader character framework shown in Figure 1.”

Metcalf Crossan 1 Inside.png

All of the behaviors associated with character are virtuous, meaning that they have been vetted by research as being desirable by cultures throughout history. And because only a few of the behaviors are trait based, character can be developed. Some of the behaviors can be viewed as values, but it is important to recognize that they are not just any values, but only ones that satisfy the criteria of being virtuous. The Developing Leadership Character article provides an in-depth analysis of eleven leadership virtues and what happens when they are either lacking or over weighted. Aristotle noted any virtue will operate like a vice when not supported by the other virtues. Thus, Courage becomes recklessness when not supported by Temperance. Integrity that is not supported by Humanity and Humility runs the risk of a person being dogmatic and egotistic. The aim is for individuals to develop strength in all dimensions of character. The following example from their article describes how a virtue can strengthen an individual’s performance and, when not supported by other dimensions of character, becomes a vice.

  • Accountability ensures that leaders own and commit to the decisions they make and encourages the same in others
  • Without Accountability, leaders don’t commit to or own the decisions they make and cannot get others to do so. They blame others for poor outcomes and, in doing so, create a culture of fear and disengagement.  People stop caring, with potentially disastrous consequences.

How do we develop character?

Because character is habit, the question to ask is “who am I becoming while I am busy doing?” advises Crossan. We are always becoming something – more courageous, or less courageous, more humble or less humble. Developing character requires understanding what it is, and in particular, how virtues could operate like a vice. Many people are proud of their candor, their modesty, their calm, etc. but if these behaviors and the dimensions of character they support are not part of a strong network of behaviors, there is every possibility that they are counterproductive – operating like a vice. Consider, something like “grit,” which has been widely touted as important. There are many behaviors within Courage and Drive that are grit-like, but research around grit has shown that it can lead to burnout. Why? Because you need the other dimensions of character, and in particular Judgment, to know when to exercise grit and when not to.

Developing character flies in the face of many approaches to leadership that suggest we should focus on our strengths and rely on other people to complement our weaknesses. Complementarity makes sense for personality traits like introversion or extroversion, but when it comes to character, weaknesses compromise individual judgment.

From another article co-authored by Mary Crossan, Elevating Leader Character Alongside Competence in Selection, “Character is constantly evolving, both personally and professionally. Thus, a person’s work and life experiences fundamentally shape character, and the story about who someone is and why they have become the person they are is unique to each person.” It will be important for the individual and the organization to attend to the virtues they want to see and understand how different virtues complement one another and how they complement one another.

For each of the items referenced above, if we are not conscious and motivated, we are unlikely to change elements of character. Self-awareness, conscious choice, rewarding context, aligning complementary virtues, practicing virtuous behaviors, and motivation all impact the choice and outcome of the work to build character.

As we wrap up the discussion, I would like to return to the article written by Mary Crossan and her colleagues, “Character is not something that you have or don’t have.  All of us have character, but the key is the depth of development of each facet of character that enables us to lead holistically.  Character is not a light switch that can be turned on and off.  There are degrees, and every situation presents a different experience and opportunity to learn and deepen character.  In particular, and for better or for worse, character comes to the fore when managing a crisis.  No one is perfect when it comes to character, and given that its development is a lifelong journey, we will rise to the occasion in some situations and disappoint ourselves and those around us in others.”

In our current, fast-changing environment, we need leaders who demonstrate character, informed by leadership virtues. Organizations must understand how to build character and also the contexts that inhibit character development.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, coach, consultant, author and speaker.

Photo by Jopwell x PGA

To Create the Future, Change the Conversation

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Peter Block photo 1

Cheryl Esposito welcomes Peter Block award winning author, thought leader, and consultant to corporate, government, and community organizations in the realm of empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability, and the reconciliation of community.

Peter’s many books include The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters, which won the Independent Book Publisher Book Award for Business Breakthrough Book of the Year; and Community: The Structure of Belonging. Peter suggests that our major challenge in moving toward a relevant future is to focus on what we can create, rather than what problems we can solve. He has stopped talking about what’s wrong and how to fix it. Instead, he observes, “Nothing new gets created by better problem solving or by focusing on low-hanging fruit,” he says. “No matter how sophisticated we are as a learning organization, if our conversations are limited to measurable outcomes, we are simply getting better at a system, not creating a new future.”

Want to know how to do this? Join Cheryl Esposito & Peter Block on ‘Leading Conversations‘ to explore creating the future by changing the conversation!

Are Your Company’s Values Making An Impact?

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Are Your Company’s Values Making An Impact?

values 2

Many companies have a values statement on the wall. But ask employees or even top managers what these values are and, yes, some can rattle them off. But then go further and ask this question: How would I know it if I see it? Then you probably will get a blank stare of some mumble jumble answer.

So how do you bring life to the values in your company?

CPR: is the Answer. Here’s How!

1.Describe Your Values
Organizations often tout their values – accountability, innovation, integrity, quality, respect, teamwork – but when is the last time you asked if these values have been defined in behavioral terms? Do the people know for example what, “respect” looks like, feels like or smells like?

In a leadership development program for a growing hospitality company, each training module included an exercise called “Values in Action”. Here’s an example. Your customers would see “integrity” because you would:
• Deliver what‘s advertised – “don’t feel scammed”.
• Attentively listen to complaints and move to solve the problem.
• Do what you say you were going to do – and if you can’t, say why.

2. Practice Your Values
This involves actually doing what you say you value. A critical part of strong leadership is the degree to which what you profess and what you practice are in alignment. Here’s an exercise to do each week.

• Pick one value you want to practice. Don’t be an over-achiever and try to accomplish more. Start small and then build.
• Ask how can I demonstrate this value? For example, if it’s “respect”, then who are the folks I want to show respect to and how will I do it? It could be as simple as not interrupting Mary when she gets long winded.
• Assess the end of the week what specific things you did to exemplify this particular value? What might have been opportunities you missed? For example, when Joe came in to my office and said…. I could have said this…..
• Pick another value and go through the same process the following week. What you’ll find is awareness plus focus plus motivation leads to change.

3. Reinforce Your Values
Reinforcement involves recognition and possible reward for specific behavior. This can be done through positive feedback when you see an employee treating a customer with integrity; or it could be part of the annual performance appraisal process. And it can be by storytelling – a powerful way to communicate what we value and how we behave around here.

The $125,000 Thank You
All companies go through tough times but it’s the way they handle it that makes a difference. For example, Armstrong International, a number of years ago, had to put a wage freeze into effect to get through what looked like a very difficult year. Right from the start, management was up front with the employees talking about how they plan to handle this challenge.

He then lifted the sheet and everyone saw, to their amazement, a table covered with $10 bills; some 12,500 of them – stacked two feet high. One by one, each employee came up and was told, “Thank you for your understanding and commitment to Armstrong.” Each walked away with forty crisp, new $10 bills

This story has been told over and over again by employees and by the media because it demonstrates very clearly the values of the company – Honesty – Fairness – Respect – Trust – Loyalty.

Smart Moves Tip:

Values are important. They describe how you relate to your staff, customers, investors and suppliers. Numbers tell you how much there is of something, not if it is right. Values tell you whether something is right for you and your organization. And when values have been defined in behavioral terms then you, as a leader, can manage the people and processes more effectively

Marcia Zidle:

The Business Edge with Marcia Zidle, your Smart Moves Coach, delivers practical advice to help business leaders take the growing pains out of growth. Are you facing overwhelming demands on your time? Are costly mistakes eating into your profits? Are you facing increased expectations from customers and clients and the need to strike a better balance in your life? Now’s the time to stop spending your energy managing problems and start doing your real work: growing your business to the next level and beyond. Learn to create a growth agenda to get your business on the right track and keep it there. Rev up your growth engine with exceptional talent. Develop the right kind of leadership to move it forward fast. Start by tuning in to The Business Edge, airing live every Wednesday at 11 AM Pacific Time.

The ‘Sobriety’ Band Wagon

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The ‘Sobriety’ Band Wagon


Welcome to my ‘Bandwagon’, jump on there is plenty of room!

I read the term ‘Pink Cloud’ recently while reading Terry Gross’s book “All I Did Was Ask”; interviews from her syndicated NPR radio program ‘Fresh Air’.

Intriguing to say the least because I had never heard the term before, so I did what I normally do, I Googled it.

Here is the definition from the Urban Dictionary:


“Pink Cloud”

“12 step recovery jargon referring to someone new who talks about how great life is, now that they’re sober. Usually meaning that the person is out of touch with reality,”

“The new guy seems pretty happy for a dude who has no job, no money and no family. He must be on a pink cloud.”

Ouch, kinda harsh, but a term that obviously resonated with me since I am focusing this week’s blog around it, it made me think of my 16 years of sobriety and sharing this story.

Becoming sober was easy for me, understanding my sobriety now that was another whole story. I never had the experience of the ‘Pink Cloud’, and it took a long time to understand my personal complexities, emotional issues, and behavioral compulsions. Sobriety is a really tricky thing, compulsive behaviors can destroy your life, or if channeled in a positive direction save your life. For me it was always about choice; and it took quite a while to come to grips with who I am and that moving in the positive direction is completely achievable.


It is all about education and accountability.

I have shared this journey before, the following is an excerpt of a blog I wrote five years ago, and it fed into chapter 22 of my book ‘Maximize Your Quality of Life, The 200% Solution’, published in 2012. Both blog and chapter were titled: “My Demon Alcohol”

Time to revisit my demon-

“I am a problem drinker, being a very, almost obsessive compulsive, ( if there is such a thing), tends to feed into the demon of my alcohol abuse. It has been almost thirteen years since I “Indulged”, and frankly when helping others with their health and fitness compulsive behaviors are common.

I started drinking at the tender age of sixteen, and frankly did not like the effects, at first. At that time, (late 70’s) it was a different time and alcohol use and abuse was common and accepted, almost encouraged. It was the socially acceptable thing to do, so I became accustomed to using and started the slow descent into problem drinking.

I drank consistently and at times abusively for twenty years, ( and for that let me say I am sorry to everyone I may have been a jerk off to), so when I finally did quit, I was surprised at how easy it was, I just decided one day to stop, period. However the demon was still in my mind and not until I saw a psychologist for 6 months did I come to understand my “why”.

He explained to me there are two types of people as far as alcohol abuse is concerned, the alcoholic, and the problem drinker, binger, and the drunk. One is a sickness and a chemical dependency, the other is a compulsive destructive behavior that when you start you can’t stop; its hammer town or nothing. Both are terrible and potentially deadly.


My therapist made me understand my internal “why”, the OCD behavior that is what makes me, me. That knowledge, that understanding, has helped me to grow as an individual, understand that compulsions that are channeled into a positive energy can be a very good thing, that everyone has the potential for some sort of behavior disorder; it is just understanding your “why”.

I love being sober, love my life and my family my job, my friends and all of you who follow my writings, those who want to improve their lives.

If I still was consuming I would have never married my wife almost ten years ago, she would not have had me. The point of this whole blog is growth and change. That anything is possible, that achieving unreachable goals is possible, that finding people and finding yourself is truly possible.

Channeling your growth and your life into the positive is completely achievable, you just have to try.

I will revisit this topic, obviously there is so much more that can be discussed, however I am at my word limit. I just want to say if you are in that place and you don’t like it you can change, never give up, we all have so much to give, and life is a beautiful thing.
Much love to you all,”


Owning my issues took seeking professional help, because not understanding the complexities of compulsive behavior is confusing but completely doable. Seeking therapy not only saved my life it opened a whole new world of possibilities. If you are having similar issues I encourage you to seek help, understand, and accept yourself for who you are.

Channeling compulsive energy is a really good thing, and we need all the positive energy we can muster in our country and world.

As boomers we need to lead, it is never too late to change!


Tom Matt is the host of the weekly talk show “Boomers Rock”, heard on WGHN 1370 AM Saturday mornings at 9:00 in Grand Haven, Michigan, and syndicated on the Internet here at VoiceAmerica.

His show is also heard on the Spartan Sports network SSN/247.

This is where he brings experts in to discuss all issues that enhance our quality of life. He welcomes comments and feedback, on his site Boomers rock, please join our family and change the world!

Visit our website, sign up and become part of the solution, its free and always welcoming/

All aboard!

Pension Power and Corporate Accountability with Therese Revesz

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Pension Power and Corporate Accountability with Therese Revesz
Thomas DiNapoli

Thomas DiNapoli

He’s been called “the unsung hero of Albany.” As part of our series on leadership & governance, New York State’s popular Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli talks about using the power of the state’s $173 bn pension fund to improve corporate transparency, accountability & community responsibility. The leverage he and fellow public pension fund fiduciaries exercise produces stronger long-term investment performance benefitting not only their fund participants, but individual shareholders as well. Should mutual fund managers follow suit? A leader of campaign finance reform and environmental impact accountability, Tom will also talk about the comptroller’s role in improving governance in New York and in consequence in the state’s business climate. And that’s not all. Liz Kennedy of Demos looks at what’s going on with the SEC and disclosure. She’ll also update us on moves in several states to “take back” the first amendment and end the sale free (political) speech goes to highest bidder.

Liz Kennedy

Tune in for a New Episode of “Global Reach: Winning in Global Markets” with Host Therese Revesz. She will be discussing “Pension Power and Corporate Accountability: an interview with NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Plus, whats up with the SEC?” This will be aired January 30th at 11 am Pacific Time.

We are all operating in a dynamic global marketplace, whether we reach across borders to find new customers and fresh ideas or face overseas competitors in our home market.Global Reach embraces the opportunities and challenges we encounter when operating in multiple countries and cultures. We talk with entrepreneurs and executives about their strategies for winning in fast changing world markets: cross-cultural communication, global branding, media and marketing, transportation and manufacturing, the future of finance, alternative investment strategies, innovation and IP protection.Global Reach interviews thought leaders about 21st century megatrends that impact international entities: trends like the business and politics of sustainability, the morphing nature of competitiveness, globalization, global companies vs national governments, worldview and growth prescriptions, emerging markets issues, and the corporate impact on society (governance, ethics and leadership).


Do You Practice MBWA? by Marcia Zidle

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Do You Practice MBWA? by Marcia Zidle

Management by Wandering

How often do you connect with your team – chat with them, work alongside them, ask question and be there to help when needed?

This practice is called Management By Wandering Around (or Management By Walking About) – MBWA for short. Yes, it’s been a concept that’s been around for quite a while. So this is a gentle reminder of what it can accomplish.

Benefits: It Can Increase:

  • Communication: When your staff sees you as a person and not just a boss, they’ll trust you more and will be more likely      to tell you what’s going on. You’ll get the chance to learn about issues before they become problems.
  • Accountability:  When you interact regularly with your team, everyone is more motivated to follow through, because you’re seeing each other on a regular basis.
  • Productivity: Many creative ideas come from casual exchanges so people will more likely feel free to come to you with their ideas for continuous improvement.
  • Morale: People often feel better about their jobs and their organization when they have opportunities to be heard.

Wandering Around Tips:
To be successful, it takes more than simply strolling through your office, warehouse, or production facility. MBWA is a determined and genuine effort to understand your staff, what they do, and what you can do to make their work more effective.

  • Ask for feedback and ideas:  Let everyone know that you want ideas to make things better. As the boss, people may think that your opinions and ideas are “right.” So hold back from saying what you think – the goal is to see what others have to say.
  • At the same time, share information: Your “walk-arounds” are opportunities to talk about company goals that can help everyone understand what they do is important.
  • Answer questions openly and honestly:  If you don’t know an answer, find out and then follow up. If you can’t share something, say so. Telling half-truths can break down trust.
  • Wander around equally:  Don’t spend more time in one department or section than another. And don’t always talk to the same people or to people with certain ranks. You want to be approachable to everyone, regardless of job title or position.
  •  Turn the conversation away from work to them as people: Learn the names of your staff’s kids. Find out what they love to do or where they’re going on vacation. Joke, laugh, and have fun.

Smart Moves Tip:
How can you use Management By Wandering Around to help you achieve your leadership goals? Ask yourself the following:

  • When was the last time you walked around your office or department? Why did you walk around? Were you looking for things that people were doing poorly or doing well? What did you learn?
  • Do you know the first and last names of all your team members? This is a must. What else do you know about them – their hobbies, their family, their other talents?
  • Do you know more about a small group of your staff vs. all staff, or more about one department vs. others? Why have you been focusing your attention on just those people? Do you think the rest of the staff sees this as favoritism?

Marcia Zidle, the smart moves executive coach and speaker, is host of The Business Edge on the Voice America Business Network. The show features the Smart Growth System providing small to medium sized businesses the proper foundation for expansion: a Growth Agenda that becomes their roadmap, a Growth Engine that attracts and engages the best talent and Growth Leaders that make it happen. Marcia, the CEO of Leaders At All Levels, brings street smarts to help businesses get on the right track and not get sidetracked on their path to higher performance and profitability.


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