Think about the magnitude of business and leadership failures — from Equifax to Uber — making headlines around the globe. The blow to brand reputation and loyalty is staggering and will take years to rebuild. The impact on stakeholders is sickening. Any business that fails, whether large or small, impacts countless lives.
So how can we, experienced leaders, reduce the chance that our company will be the next one to hit the bad-news headlines?
In my experience, courageous character is the foundation of business and leadership success. It impacts every move we make, every decision we take and every relationship we establish. Business owners, top management and sales leaders must be attuned to character development in their emerging leaders. It is a business advantage. Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel, Ph.D., authors of Moral Intelligence, said it best: “Strong moral skills are not only an essential element of successful leadership, but are also a business advantage. The most trustworthy leaders in any company are likely to be trustworthy individuals who have a strong set of moral beliefs and the ability to put them into action. Furthermore, even in a world that occasionally rewards bad behavior, the fastest way to build a successful business is to hire those people who have the highest moral and ethical skills you can find.”
Leaders who operate with a balance of high character and high courage have a positive influence and are constructive change agents. These leaders are willing to take responsible risks and communicate with honesty and transparency. In contrast, we find leaders who experience character failures. They set the stage for costly battles played out in front of the media, damaging even the most well-respected company brand.
In our survey of just over 300 CEOs, leaders and presidents, 60% are worried about mentoring and working with millennials. A staggering 45% of these leaders cited character issues as a concern.
Up-and-coming leaders who lack courageous character will stall profitable growth with these shortcomings:
• Lack of grit and determination to tackle difficult projects
• Making decisions that compromise ethics and cause a loss of respect
• Killing creativity needed to source innovative solutions
• Damaging the brand because of the negative impact
• Blaming anything or anyone other than themselves for low performance
View Character Concerns As A Learning And Coaching Opportunity
Instead of being frustrated with a millennial’s shortcomings, view it as a mentoring opportunity.
Character has been critical for leadership development throughout the ages. The ancient wisdom found in the cardinal virtues — prudence, justice, temperance and courage — were derived primarily from Aristotle. These, along with the Church’s three core theological virtues — faith, hope and charity — have stood the test of time. We can gain wisdom from the ancients to help chart our course today.
Many learning institutions recognize the need for these foundational virtues in today’s business climate. For example, the Harvard Virtues Leadership Institute includes these powerful words in their mission statement: “Our mission is to … raise up a new generation of virtuous leaders — men and women of character — empowered to transform life, business, and culture in a way consistent with the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human heart.”
In our high-tech world, eyes, faces and expressions may go into screen saver mode when we talk about virtues. I understand it’s not a commonly used word. I developed a concept that’s easier to grasp, DAKOTA, which is based on my upbringing on a North Dakota ranch.
Character Development: Here’s Where To Start
DAKOTA represents six focus areas for strengthening the character of your millennial leader:
Determination: To stretch your millennial sales leader’s current comfort zone and to give them the all-important victories they need to succeed, show them what determination is. For example, give them a goal to work on for 30 days, such as going to the gym. Celebrate their successes. Support them if they get off track.
Awareness: Your emerging leader needs to be aware of what they can achieve. I recommend using an assessment tool or survey to pinpoint this information. It also allows your team to become aware of their talents.
Knowing: Don’t assume your team knows right from wrong. Instead, develop a set of questions they can ask when they are in a high-risk situation. This might include questions like, “What are the facts in this case?” and “What are alternative options?”
Optimism: It’s important to surround your team with optimistic people who can help energize them. This will stimulate their creativity and drive their success.
Trustworthiness: One of my favorite go-to experts on trust, David Horsager, said in a keynote I attended, “Without trust, leaders lose teams. Without trust, people lose sales. Without trust, organizations lose productivity, relationships, reputation, talent, customer loyalty, creativity, morale, revenue and results. Indeed, trust, not money, is the currency of business.”
Accountability: Millennials need accountability, but they have little experience with it. Encourage your emerging sales leader to embrace an excuse-free character core that does not allow victim-mode and blame-games.
We will not be able to eliminate character failures overnight. However, an ongoing investment of time to develop solid character qualities in your millennial sales leader will translate into safeguards for you, the leader and your company in providing a competitive advantage.
Leadership and sales development expert, DanitaBye.com; author of Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader.…
Leadership and sales development expert, DanitaBye.com; author of Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader.