Demonstrate Character with Moral Courage and Honesty
RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series
True leaders do not build great teams through their words but through their actions. How you act will reveal your authentic character. Moral courage, honesty, empathy, and humility are the “must have” components of character for leaders. Let’s take a look at moral courage and honesty.
Perhaps the most straightforward is honesty. As a leader, people will look to you to be consistent with your word. Employees can smell false praise and misdirected criticism a mile away. Once you’ve gone down those roads, it’s tough to backtrack. It’s best to hold your tongue rather than to give in to the impulse to please or to blame when you know deep down you’re not being truthful. Being honest with your team all the time will let them know exactly what you expect of them – and of yourself. There is nothing more powerful in the workplace than being honest about your own mistakes.
Successful leaders don’t try to dilute the truth or sugar coat unpleasant feedback about your team’s work from upper management. Is the project behind schedule? Over budget? Not getting the desired results? Give it to your team straight. They can’t work together to turn things around if they don’t know what’s going south.
The most common leadership failure in this area occurs when you have to dismiss someone. Tell them honestly why they weren’t working out as part of the team. Both parties can learn and grow from an honest exchange of viewpoints. And never tell someone, “This is for your own good.” No one believes it, they don’t want to hear it, and you do not really know if it’s true.
Moral courage differs from honesty because, while you need to demonstrate honesty every day, moral courage emerges on its own schedule. The opportunity to demonstrate moral courage is often under pressure, or when the chips are down.
Take the case of the good old-fashioned screw-up. One of your people makes a mistake, and it’s a doozy. This is when you have to remember that YOU are responsible for your team’s performance, good or bad. You’re the boss, so step up and take responsibility. Your employee will respect your courage, knowing you are taking one for the team. That person is going to work harder than ever for you.
And, if you work for a successful company, your managers will appreciate that you have not chosen to blame someone who reports to you. In strong organizations, managers have learned to take responsibility for their team’s actions. That goes with the turf of leadership. They will expect you to resolve the problem within your team. It takes guts to stick up for your folks when they make mistakes. But you will earn respect both up and down when you do it consistently.
How many successful sports coaches blame their players after a tough loss for the outcome? Not very many – because within a winning organization, coaches that whine don’t last long. The great ones accept full responsibility for a loss–and promise to do better themselves in the future.
It’s the same where you work. Your direct reports – and those you report to – expect honesty and moral courage from you. Demonstrate those two qualities, and your team will walk through walls for you. And be assured, the folks upstairs will take note.