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Most organizations I have interacted with focus on competence development of Leaders. Make them more competent. Period! Very few focus on the character development of leaders. Why is character important in the first place? And if so, is there any proven method to develop a character? Can it be developed through mere external inputs?

These are very important considerations given the times we live in. In a free trade economy, hiring skilled workers is not an impossible proposition. However, getting great leaders with a solid impeccable character is getting increasingly difficult. It is evident that in a rapidly changing world environment, we cannot merely rely on competence alone. In turbulent times, having a competent leader can energize the organization, yet leave behind a feeling of being lost or confused. The ability of the captain in a rough sea to steer the ship safely is commendable, but to make people home in a crisis time calls for some character. And that is why it is so important.

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Let us understand the Character – Competence Grid and see how this impacts the outcome in the situations we confront. We can also see how some of the well-known leaders or types of leaders stack up in this grid. Leaders with a high degree of competence are accomplished in getting tasks done. What is uncertain is the choice of decisions for the assigned tasks. The outcomes could be beneficial for them and the organization in the short run but undermine long term sustainability. The key aspect is the quality of the decisions, which in turn are determined by the quality of the leader’s character and the values which define the overall character. Could this value differences lead to aspersions on the ability of Cyrus Mistry to lead the Tata Group and eventually his ouster?  The differences between the founders of Infosys and the current CEO are not around the performance but the way certain values were ignored leading to a completely different characterization of the leader.

Leaders with a great character but lacking in competence can provide little results, yet they act as balm on a hurting head. The great values which define their character create hope for the teams they lead. It helps keep things going, while the solution itself might need new acquisition of competence (generally from outside the organization). In such instances, the leader’s integrity and character rise above the din of the situation. However, the inability to demonstrate competence can still be a pain and lead to sub-standard performance. It still is preferable to a situation having leaders with great competence but little character. The worst could be an unqualified leader with little character and low competence. The crisis which bought down Kingfisher airlines could have been managed differently if the character and the competence of its leaders were refined.

Needless to say, great leaders demonstrate great character with competence. They are admired, revered and in the process attract similar talent. However, they also inadvertently may create leadership vacuum, if their stature is much bigger than that of others in the same organization. The other leaders will never match up, to the legacy of extraordinary level of character and competence of their leader. Narayan Murthy is one such leader. 

Barring this possibility, organizations overall stand to benefit if they attend to the character development of its leaders. Great organizations and institutions realize this and thereby create long term sustainability for themselves.  

 Author: Mr.Vikas Bhatia