It’s Always Very Personal

Accountability Empathy Organizational leadership


Key Point: Leaders who live and work with Character, actually run organizations that financially perform better. According to a new study by KRW International, a Minneapolis-based leadership consultancy, researchers found that CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for Character had an average return of 9.35 percent on assets over a two-year period. That’s nearly five times as much as what those with low character ratings had; their ROA averaged only 1.93 percent. Check out the findings here

According to the HBR blog above, “Character is a subjective trait that might seem to defy quantification. To measure it, KRW cofounder Fred Kiel and his colleagues began by sifting through the anthropologist Donald Brown’s classic inventory of about 500 behaviors that are recognized and displayed in all human societies. Drawing on that list, they identified four moral principles – integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion – as universal. Then they sent anonymous surveys to employees at 84 U.S. companies and nonprofits, asking, among other things, how consistently their CEOs and management teams embodied the four principles. They also interviewed many of the executives and analyzed the organizations’ financial results. When financial data was unavailable, leaders’ results were excluded.

At one end of the spectrum are the executives Kiel calls ‘virtuoso CEOs’ – those whose employees gave them and their management teams high ratings on all four principles. People reported that these leaders frequently engaged in behaviors that reveal strong Character. For instance, standing up for what’s right, expressing concern for the common good, letting go of mistakes (their own and others’), and showing empathy. 

Employees said that the self-focused CEOs told the truth slightly more than half the time, couldn’t be trusted to keep promises, often passed off blame to others, frequently punished well-intentioned people for making mistakes, and were especially bad at caring for people.”

Leading with integrity is not necessarily easier. I know from personal experience, that even when making a decision thought to be the best for all, it can end up hurting someone. The intention is not to hurt of course, but nevertheless that can be an unintended consequence. People can still feel a sense of loss because of decisions we’ve made. Sometimes it’s the quality of the decision, and other times it’s the process of communicating. Even decisions made from the base of the highest intended integrity can sting. 

Character Moves: 

  1. It is impossible to be a leader without making decisions that people won’t like, or feel hurt. The most important element is that the collective body you’re leading trusts the integrity of the decision; that overall it is meant to be better for the greater good.
  2. Also when we decide things that “hurt “others, even with the best intention, we have to face that fact. Part of being a strong and effective leader is forgiving yourself too. Caring and compassion comes from recognizing that your decision did have personal consequences. It is seductive to wish that “people” should just “get over it.” The only way over it, is through it. It’s back to the beautiful saying… “What’s in the way is the way.” Sometimes those impacted find that hard to do and everyone moves on for the greater good. At other times empathy and care leads to an even stronger bond. There unfortunately is no universal truth in what is the best or likely outcome. 
  3. Although we think business is just business, well, it rarely is. It’s always personal when it involves you and me. High character leaders have empathy for that feeling and the responsibility to always move constructively foreword. 

It’s personal in The Triangle, 


One Millennial View: As I aspire to keep on building, learning and advancing in my profession, obviously I’m keeping tabs on how my leaders and bosses operate. I imagine every millennial is doing the same to their own degree too. Although good Character is desired among bosses, sometimes I feel like millennials can be too cynical… They can be too quick to say, “my boss doesn’t care about me,” or “my boss doesn’t know what they’re doing.” In some cases that could be true, but I’d prefer to believe that the majority of leaders aren’t intending to throw you under the bus. We, as millennials, need to take our own responsibility to practice our own good Character, whether we see it in our leaders or not. Leaders will have to make tough choices, and no battle is fought without casualties. The harsh truth is that sometimes we’re not going to make it out unscathed, but first and foremost, it’s on us to make sure we have the best shot at success. Be your own great leader first.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis