Can Leadership Be Learned? Why Character Is Key to Leadership

Posted on October, 1st 2021

If your basic mental models and fortifying habits remain in force you will only achieve a more efficient existence, not true freedom. The experience of true freedom (self-knowledge) is a positive state experienced as an abundance of flow in our lives.

Much of leadership can be learned. For example, emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity, communication skills and a myriad of business knowledge, skills, and capabilities are all learnable skills. Although these are quite important and improve business effectiveness at many levels, they should be thought of as threshold competencies. More importantly, how well one learns and applies these to improve business effectiveness is often a function of what the leader brings to the table as a human being.

The most successful companies are led by women and men who have mastered these threshold competencies but are also persons of character who are secure enough as leaders to connect their heads with their hearts. At the core of this level of leadership is one’s relationship with oneself. When self-love (the opposite of narcissism) is at the core it is reflected in character.

Character and Leadership

According to Fred Kiel, character is “an individual’s unique combination of internalized beliefs and moral habits that motivate and shape how the individual relates to others.” In short, how one treats those who can in no way repay them. He identifies four defining character habits. Two are from the head and two are from the heart: 1. Integrity, 2. Responsibility, 3. Forgiveness and, 4. Compassion.

Why is character important for success in business?

Character influences and shapes leadership decisions and behaviors which affect business results. Putting it together, a company’s or a leader’s return on character is a function of who the leaders is, what the leader does, and how the leader is able to influence outcomes. But character itself can serve as a threshold competency upon which to build an increasingly conscious journey that liberates inner genius, inner peace, and remarkable adaptability.

Can Character Be Learned?

Let’s explore the issue “Can character be learned?” since it is likely the most important and enduring foundation for leadership, creating an engaged workforce, happy customers and competitive advantage in the marketplace. To achieve this involves a different type of work. It requires commitment to reality at all costs, an essential ingredient in personal mastery. The capacity to expand consciousness in response to experience and environmental feedback is critical for character development.

In Kiel’s work the CEOs with the strongest character–and strongest business results–were self-aware (doesn’t make the distinction between self-aware and self-knowledge which is a contribution of our work at CEOE.).

Six Steps to Develop Character

Here are six neuroscience-based steps for leadership growth/change offered by Fred Kiel in Return on Character as a template for becoming a “virtuoso leader” with stellar character.

1. Acknowledge Invitations to Change

Make you aware that your current understanding of the world is inadequate

2. Discover What You Want to Change

Best to enlist a mentor, consultant etc.

Examination, review of life story, journal, mindfulness training, identify triggers, etc.

3. Find the Fuel to Change

Find a character goal that inspires you

Dream big

4. Identify the Keystone Change

The hardest step: discovering how you might unintentionally sabotage your own good intentions for change and then disarming that response

5. Disarm Your Security System

Change/ambiguity equals danger and loss

Face assumptions based on mental models

6. Rewire Your Brain

Character is made up of patterns of thought, emotion, intuitions, and behavior we develop over the course of our life

Our Perspective on Leadership and Character

From the perspective of CEOE, character evolves from what we have left to work with after compromise formations, mental models, and neurobiology circuitry are in place, all of which fuel our existing habits. Although the brain is plastic throughout life it does not change “voluntarily.” The brain establishes rules that cause us to confuse our functional ability with our innate capability.

The slow system based on original mental models limits who we were destined to become and preserves disparities between our functional ability and innate capability over the course of our life. Ironically, our neurobiology cooperates to maintain the necessary illusion that we are close to the limits of our potential. Updating existing rules requires disruption coupled with a commitment to re-focus attention and create new pathways by re-directing the neuronal communication patterns.

At CEOE we believe it is possible to re-capture our truer selves and create greater spiritual, intellectual, and emotional freedom than our unexamined mental models can even imagine.  This is how exponential leadership is created.

Eight Suggestions to Develop Leadership

Leadership can be learned. Below are some practical suggestions from our work (and books) at CEOE that leaders can begin to cultivate. With repetition and conscious intent, they have the power to change the brain and enhance your leadership abilities beyond your current aspirations:

1. Do the Harder Thing

This can often lead to a disconfirming experience and develops the frontal lobes

2. Gather Information from Others (Dialogue)

List the things you find intolerable in others and ask trusted persons if they can see any of those attributes in you

3. Remind Yourself That Ambiguity Is Not Equivalent to Danger

Learn to tolerate anxiety without taking action to reduce your discomfort

Don’t rush to reduce creative tension. Perspective is often gained by the passage of time

4. Be Skeptical of Your Assumptions

Ask others what they think

Engage in self-talk that disconfirms your assumptions

5. Find Time to Be Available to Others

Acknowledge others even if you are very busy

6. Change Habitual Ways of Dealing with High Levels of Stress by Overriding Hard-Wired Brain Tendencies

Talking things out with trusted others can be very helpful

7. Take a Long-Term Perspective

Long-term self-interest creates better results than short-term self-interest

8. Avoid Blame

And don’t make assumptions about others

Work at putting yourself in other’s shoes (it can reveal your tacit mental models)

How to Learn Leadership

In conclusion, at the core of leadership is character, and at the core of character is personal mastery. In order to learn leadership and create exponential results, you have to commit to personal mastery.

Above we outlined a few suggestions to help you get started. Below are additional resources that will help you go deeper into leadership, character, and personal mastery:

  • Check out our books
  • Get in contact to learn about our programs
  • Sign up for our 5-Minute Mastery Newsletter below

5 Minute Mastery Weekly Newsletter

Every week we provide a tip from one of the four areas we believe add up to a complete CEO.

    5 Minute Mastery Weekly Newsletter

    Every week we provide a tip from one of the four areas we believe add up to a complete CEO.