Character Counts

“But character counts, and it counts mightily.” – General Martin Dempsey

One role of a leader is to be able to flex their leadership abilities to the demands of reality. Last week on an episode of Rock Center with Brian Williams, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was addressing the issue of General Petraeus and his career-ending affair, and in doing so he touched on two of the most critical characteristics of a leader: competence and character.

In referencing what they’ve learned from that situation, he said:

We had a conversation about competence and character. I think over the last ten years when you’re at war, you tend to value competence above all else. Naturally, the nation’s well-being is hanging in the balance. So the first lesson I think would be not that we’ve neglected the character side of this equation, but we probably are at a point where we ought to reemphasize it.

Maybe we can’t see character from the top down. Maybe you can see part of it. Maybe we need the impression, maybe we need the view of those that are looking from the bottom up. I’m actually more interested in what are the colonels, lieutenant colonels saying about the colonels? What are the colonels saying about the brigadiers? Competence will always be the most important thing. You can’t have a man of — or woman of incredible character who can’t deliver on the battlefield because at the end of the day that’s what we’re accountable for. But character counts, and it counts mightily.

What a great perspective from one of the highest ranking leaders in our nation. Here are four takeaways and questions to consider from this conversation:

  1. In critical situations (especially when lives are at risk), competence is paramount.
    What are the critical areas/times in your business when absolute competence and nothing less is essential?
  2. Even in critical situations, you can’t neglect or ignore the importance of character.
    Are there times or areas in your business where you overlook or excuse character issues for the sake of profitability, or image, or another reason?
  3. Leaders need to assess the character of their teammates 360 degrees. The teammates’ and direct reports’ perception of a leader’s character matters.
    Do employees have the opportunity to speak up if their leader has a character issue? Will they be listened to, ignored, or even punished?
  4. “Character counts, and it counts mightily.” That is a powerful statement that speaks for itself.
    Does character count in your organization? Do your actions and decisions send the message that character counts? Does your culture value character?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *