Leading with Character and Competence: Moving Beyond Title, Position, and Authority

Leading with Character and Competence: Moving Beyond Title, Position, and Authority

by Timothy R. Clark


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Leading with Character and Competence
Moving beyond Title, Position, and Authority

“Leadership is an applied discipline, not a foamy concept to muse about,” says three-time CEO, Oxford-trained scholar, and consultant Timothy R. Clark. “In fact, it’s the most important applied discipline in the world.” The success of any organization can be traced directly to leadership. And leadership can be learned. But too many books and development programs focus exclusively on skills.

In reality, performance and ultimate credibility are based on a combination of character and competence. As Clark puts it, character is the core and competence the crust. He shows how greatness emerges from a powerful combination of the two, although in the end character is more important. A leader with character but no competence will be ineffective, while a leader with competence but no character is dangerous.

Clark spotlights the four most important components of character and competence and offers a series of eloquent, inspiring, and actionable reflections on what’s needed to build each one. Fundamentally, he sees leadership as influence—leaders influence people “to climb, stretch, and become.” You need character to influence positively and competence to influence effectively.

This is a book for anyone, no matter where he or she is on the organization chart. Because today employees at all levels are being asked to step up, not only can everyone be a leader, everyone has to be. Clark’s insights are profound, and his passion is infectious. “Leadership” he writes, “is the most engaging, inspiring, and deeply satisfying activity known to humankind. Through leadership we have the opportunity to progress, overcome adversity, change lives, and bless the race.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626567733
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 10/17/2016
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 382,343
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Timothy R. Clark is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, a consulting and training organization that focuses on leadership development, change management, and strategic agility. Clark earned a doctorate in social science from Oxford University and is a former first-team academic All-American football player at Brigham Young University. He is the author of four books and more than one hundred articles. His clients include organizations such as Accenture, Dow, the FBI, Genentech, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, and Stanford University.

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Leading with Character and Competence

Moving Beyond Title, Position, and Authority

By Timothy R. Clark

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy R. Clark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62656-782-5


The First Cornerstone of Character:


I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

Our Integrity Problem

The first cornerstone of character is integrity — but let's not get philosophical about what that means. We are talking about basic, straight-up honesty. Unfortunately, corruption is the pandemic of our time. Most nations on planet Earth are deeply and almost irretrievably corrupt. They have become undrainable swamps. Greek philosopher Aristotle said, "The mass of citizens is less corruptible than the few." For the sake of civil society, we need that to be true. Yet according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, three out of four institutions globally are losing the public's trust.

Consider that in this country we are chasing after dreamy egalitarianism with fiscal recklessness. We like rights and dislike responsibility. With our no-fault philosophy, we suffer from the tyranny of tolerance. We have adopted a spray-on-tan culture of YOLO narcissism. Indeed, if we can clear the decks of right and wrong — disavow, repudiate, and savage the concepts — we can give ourselves permission to do anything we want. And if we want to sound erudite about it, we call morality "cultural relativism." As one observer said, "As truth has been relativized — absolutely relativized, so to speak — so has morality."

We have a hard time being honest about the problem. We would rather extend our adolescent play of the mind. The truth is that our compass-free society is immoral in its feigned attempts to be amoral. As political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville said of the Old World, we can say of the new: We are "untroubled by those muddled and incoherent concepts of good and evil."

The Broken Triangle

We all come with a preinstalled moral sense, yet we still need to be taught integrity because it requires skill and vigilance to maintain it. We learn integrity by seeing it in action. Our children have to learn it the same way. Regrettably, as a society we are not teaching and modeling integrity to the next generation as we should. Religiosity has waned, and most schools are mandated by law to play neutral. If we yield to this "wintry piece of fact," we have to admit that the three institutions of home, church, and school — these agents that represented the triangle of socialization and have for centuries carried the burden of imbuing the next generation with integrity — are broken. This largely explains our demoralization, which is a predictable consequence of our willingness to embrace the delusion of amorality, or permissiveness thinly disguised.

With the triangle of socialization broken, we have, as political scientist James Q. Wilson asserts, amputated our public discourse on morality at the knees. And the predatory media is happy to step in as a surrogate to teach secular humanism and its popular corruptions — namely, the norms of gain and glory, indulgence, self-aggrandizement, and a hundred forms of venality. Not surprisingly, many of society's young think that integrity is unrealistic and perhaps even quaint. They may discount it as Disney idealism because they have been taught that a serious person plays to win. Indeed, ours has become a cowardly culture in which everyone forbids everyone to make value judgments.

You Will Be Tested

On one occasion I was training leaders at a Fortune 500 corporation. I brought a large for sale sign into the room, the kind you would plant in your front yard. I gave it to one of the leaders and asked, "Are you for sale?" Then I paused and said, "If you don't have an ethical creed that goes to your marrow and says, 'some things are not for sale at any price,' you are for sale. You will go to the highest bidder."

Through the course of your personal and professional life, you will run an ethical gauntlet. Your integrity will be tested. You will be propositioned to lie, steal, cheat, extort, bribe, indulge, silence, swindle, defraud, scam, evade, and exploit. Even if you don't go looking, the opportunities for ethical misconduct will find you. At the very least, you will be asked to remain purse-lipped and silent as you witness soft forms of crooked behavior around you.

Anticipate the obstacles. Prepare for their arrival. When an ethical dilemma presents itself in the moment, the situation suddenly becomes pressurized. Negotiators call it "deal heat." Be ready for that dialed-up intensity. And be alert because ethical issues do not announce themselves. Howard Winkler, manager of ethics and compliance at Southern Company, said, "When an ethical issue arises, it does not come gift-wrapped with a note that says, 'This is an ethical issue. Prepare to make an ethical decision.' It just comes across as another business problem that needs to be solved."

Know too that at least once in your life you will face a monumental obstacle, a severe trial, a crucible affliction that will try your integrity to the breaking point. You may well experience, as writer Victor Hugo said of his character Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, "the pressure of disproportionate misfortune." That day comes for all of us when our integrity goes on trial. It came for Sir Walter Scott, the beloved Scottish writer, when his publishing house failed and he found himself buried under crushing debt. In his personal journal, he described it this way: "Yet God knows, I am at sea in the dark, and the vessel leaky."

Do You Have a Personal Magna Carta?

Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner, studied ethics and said the experience "left me dangling in midair" Ethics, which is a branch of philosophy, likes to ruminate about what is right and wrong, but it steadfastly refuses to tell you what to do. Don't worry, you can't read your way to integrity, anyway.

Yes, we face some very complex ethical issues in our day. But most of the time, acting with integrity is not about knowing what to do; it's simply about doing it. The ability to perform moral reasoning does not make you moral; it's doing what is moral that makes you moral. For example, in a recent survey in the United Kingdom, students were asked, "Would you cheat in an exam if you knew you wouldn't get caught?" Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said, "Yeah, sure," while only 41 percent said, "No way." Do these students lack moral-reasoning skills?

As a human being, you confront moral choices that test your integrity. Leaders with integrity govern themselves. They regulate their own behavior and impose their own limits. They do not lie, steal, or cheat because they know it's inherently wrong. They have a personal Magna Carta to stand on principle. People flock to their high standards and taproot convictions.

But if you are unsworn to principles, integrity vanishes. As professor Harvey Mansfield wrote, "When choice is without any principle to guide it, those who must make a choice look around for something to replace principle." That search will often come back to the pursuit of selfish interest. If you don't stand for principle, there is simply nothing left to stand on. You will accept the unprincipled gain and reject the principled loss.

Leaders without integrity must be regulated from the outside by rules, laws, compliance systems, organs of restraint, and the larger control environment around them. They also know innately that lying, stealing, and cheating are wrong. They know the principle but refuse to be governed by it. Surely you have seen how people behave in riots. As the risk/reward ratio shifts, as the deterrence and the threat of punishment disappear, people burn cars and loot the neighborhood store. There's no internal check on behavior. It's a base and primal response.

The Four Moral Navigators diagram shows how people make moral decisions, using four devices that have an impact on their behavior (see figure 1.1).

* Consequences (gain or pain). With this navigator we attempt to think through a course of action and its consequences. We forecast the pain or gain associated with a given choice. If the reward is high and the risk is low, we move toward the reward.

* Rules and laws. With this navigator we look for rules and laws that apply to a given course of action and allow ourselves to be governed by them.

* Peer influence and social norms. With this navigator we are guided by the influence of those around us. We sense and follow the norms, mores, and expectations of society or the organization to which we belong.

* Principles and moral values. With this navigator we consult and follow principles and moral values implanted in our hearts and minds. We act out of a conviction of what is right or wrong, regardless of outside pressure, influence, or temptation.

Each device is important and has a role to play, but to maintain integrity, principles and moral values must have the last word. The person or organization without integrity suspends principles and moral values while applying the other navigational devices. For example, why did Volkswagen executives decide to manipulate their diesel engine software to control emissions only during laboratory testing but not in real-world driving? They applied the first device — consequences — and suspended the other three. They were lured by the prospect of financial gain.

Integrity must be rooted in your understanding of leadership: Leaders with integrity lead to contribute. Leaders without integrity lead to consume. There will be times, at least in the short term, when integrity is expensive, when it costs you something. It's hard to bravely refuse what we know is wrong when it rewards us. And it's hard to do what we know is right when it costs us. Author and columnist Peggy Noonan was correct when she said, "You can't rent a strong moral sense" Actually, you can't even buy one. You have to develop it. You have to work at it, model it, teach it, and defend it. It takes integrity to withstand the seductions of our day.

Daniel Vasella, the CEO of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, addresses integrity directly and explicitly with his people: "I talk to my team about the seductions that come with taking on a leadership role. There are many different forms: sexual seduction, money, praise. You need to be aware of how you can be seduced in order to be able to resist and keep your integrity"

Rocks and Trees Are Neutral

Theologian John Calvin wrote in 1536, "The minds of all men have impressions of civil order and honesty." And yet we are dual beings. We have impulses to do good and impulses to do evil — and we know the difference. The problem is we don't always act on what we know. The great Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that we have created "an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses."

Integrity is a matter of will. You have to want it more than you want whatever else is on offer. Journalist and politician Horace Greeley said, "Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; riches take wings." Do you believe that? This is not a philosophical question. You will have to answer that question today. You cannot stand on the sidelines and pretend to be above the fray.

Maybe your parents didn't inculcate in you the importance of values. Maybe you've had role models who taught you to subcontract your moral reflections. Maybe you had a boss whose only permanent loyalty was to himself. Maybe the mass media taught you to gorge on power and profits. Maybe greed has dulled your senses. Maybe you had a philosophy professor who taught you there are no fixed principles. Maybe you know people who cheat and prosper. Maybe you're disoriented by the morally malignant air you breathe. Maybe you hold your nose as you look at a rogues' gallery of retrograde characters and "the long freak show that was 20th-century world leadership."

Maybe. But you cannot be neutral. Rocks and trees are neutral — not people. You can't wash your hands and be a philosopher. As writer, activist, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel insisted, "We must take sides."

The Forces of Influence diagram shows what humans do every day (see figure 1.2). First, we are influenced by the actions of others. Second, we consider that influence and then consult our values, attitudes, beliefs, and desires. Third, we act and influence others. And finally, we enjoy or suffer the consequences of our actions. And please note that consequences can be suspended or delayed for long periods of time. Swift and perfect justice is not a characteristic of this life.

It is helpful to understand that we go through this process every day of our lives. It's also critical to recognize that we have responsibility throughout the process.

* You are responsible for your own values, attitudes, beliefs, and desires. You have the final and only say in how you choose to be influenced by others.

* You are responsible for the actions you take and the influence you have on others. You have moral agency — the volition to make your own decisions about what's right and wrong.

* You are responsible for the consequences of your actions and their influence on others, including how your actions affect other people's thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and choices.

You are responsible and accountable for what you think, feel, believe, say, and do. And you are responsible for the consequences. As Frederick Douglass said at the funeral of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, "It was the glory of this man that he could stand alone with the truth, and calmly await the result."

The Three Scorpions

I have worked with law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. I have trained leaders from the Secret Service; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Federal Drug Enforcement Agency; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and a host of other agencies. If you look at the data for ethical misconduct across these organizations, as well as state and local agencies, the pattern is the same. There are three primary categories of ethical misconduct:

* Lying, stealing, or cheating

* Substance abuse

*Sexual misconduct

We call these categories of ethical misconduct the three scorpions. What is fascinating is that the pattern is consistent over time, and, not surprisingly, the same pattern of misconduct applies to the rest of us. If you look at time-series data documenting law enforcement officer wrongdoing over the past 50 years, it's the same three scorpions. But that's not all that is predictable about the three scorpions; we also know what officers do to put themselves in a position to be stung. The pattern leading up to a sting is just as predictable as the sting itself. And what is it? It's simply the gradual deterioration of personal commitment to behave with integrity.

With few exceptions, officers begin their careers in a state of high commitment to their professional ethical standards. The most dangerous step for those who commit an ethical infraction is not the infraction itself but what we call the first justification. This refers to the first time the individual overrides an ethical standard by rationalizing it away.

A common initial infraction, for example, is violating a no-gratuity policy, which means accepting any gift, discount, or benefit one is offered by virtue of his or her profession. It's almost always a small thing such as accepting a free cup of coffee. It sounds absurd to many people, but what we find is that little missteps create little vulnerabilities. You accept one gratuity, then another, then another. And then one day, you have unsupervised access to confiscated property, and you know that the property was acquired with drug money. You rationalize and take some. That is how it happens.

Thankfully, not everyone is equally susceptible to the slippery slope from the point of first justification. When it comes to integrity, maintaining it has everything to do with sweating the small stuff. If you are vigilant and circumspect with the little things, you never reach the point of first justification. What is predictable is preventable. If you never allow yourself to cut a corner, preserving your integrity is absolutely predictable and engaging in ethical misconduct is absolutely preventable.

Principles of Integrity

Early in my career, I spent five years as the plant manager at Geneva Steel, the last remaining fully integrated steel plant west of the Mississippi River. The plant itself was an old relic built by United States Steel during World War II, with machinery sprawled across 2,000 acres. We ran the plant 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, shutting down only for scheduled maintenance. Of course I couldn't be there around-the-clock, so to cover more ground, connect with more people, and get my own sense of things, I made a habit of going on an occasional walkabout during swing and night shifts.


Excerpted from Leading with Character and Competence by Timothy R. Clark. Copyright © 2016 Timothy R. Clark. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
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Table of Contents

PART ONE: The Four Cornerstones of Character
1. The First Cornerstone of Character: Integrity
2. The Second Cornerstone of Character: Humility
3. The Third Cornerstone of Character: Accountability
4. The Fourth Cornerstone of Character: Courage
PART TWO: The Four Cornerstones of Competence
5. The First Cornerstone of Competence: Learning
6. The Second Cornerstone of Competence: Change
7. The Third Cornerstone of Competence: Judgment
8. The Fourth Cornerstone of Competence: Vision
Leading with Character and Competence Self-Assessment
About the Author

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