Charisma may be useful in attracting a following, but it is largely useless when it comes to achieving a long-term, positive impact on the people and organizations we lead. For this, we need character.
In helping people build their platforms, I frequently meet people whose public image is better developed than their personal character. They are one person on stage and another when the spotlight is off.
It is this fundamental lack of integrity that undermines their effectiveness and, left unchecked, can destroy their legacy.
Effective leadership is an inside-out job. This is why it is so important to give attention to developing our character. Yes, talent is important. So is education and experience. But in the end, it is our character that makes or breaks us.
In my experience, character is shaped by three forces. If we want to develop our character, we need to give attention to each of them.
- The input we consume. Computer geeks are fond of saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” The same is true with our inner life. One of the best ways to grow is by reading books, listening to podcasts and other audio programs, and attending conferences.
But the opposite is also true. Watching endless hours of mindless television, viewing pornography, or uncritically ingesting the worst of popular culture erodes character.
This is why we must be attentive to the input we consume. It affects us in deep and profound ways. It is the raw material out of which our character is formed.
The relationships we pursue. Jim Rohn taught that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If this is true—and I believe it is—we have to be more intentional about the people we choose to associate with.
- If you want to lose weight, hang out with people who make good diet and exercise choices.
- If you want a better marriage, socialize with people who have healthy ones.
- If you want to make more money, associate with people who are successful.
Conversely, dissociate from people who reinforce your worst traits. Even the Bible warns, “Bad company corrupts good character” (see 1 Corinthians 15:33). None of us can afford relationships that pull us down.
The habits we acquire. These are simply the consistent ways we think, speak, and act in different situations. They are largely unconscious, which is what gives them their power—both positively and negatively.
Good habits lead to good outcomes:
- If we develop the habit of praising our spouse in public, for example, it contributes to a healthy marriage.
- If we develop the habit of positive thinking, it can help us cope with adversity.
- If we make healthy food choices, it can increase our energy, improve our productivity, and extend our lives.
But bad habits can have the opposite impact, too. If you make a habit of complaining about your boss, it can come back to bite you. That’s why we have to be intentional about building good habits and breaking ourselves of bad ones.
Nothing is more important to our effectiveness as leaders than the cultivation of our own character. Why? Because ultimately we will replicate who we are—for good or for bad.