The 4 Character Strengths of a Leader

My wife often tells me about her late father. Because he passed away long before I ever met her, I never had the honor to meet or know him. The stories she shares about her memories of him are priceless and each one of her stories has left an indelible mark on my heart and mind.

The other evening, she told me of an employee who came to work for her dad. My wife’s father was both an electronic engineering professor in Japan and president of his own electrical systems design company. He hired a young man who came to Tokyo right after junior high. Without much education under this young man’s belt, the professor took the boy under his wings and began teaching and mentoring him about the electrical systems design business.

Far from the perfect employee, the young lad accidentally burned a customer’s house and an entire floor of a new building in the same year! While the young man was panic-stricken, the professor was a patient teacher who modeled self-control in crisis situations. He took the employee aside and calmly talked to him. He then, as president of the company [formally called “daihyo-torishimariyaku” or 代表取締役 or informally called “shacyou” or 社長], would apologize to the customer and pay for the cost of the repairs. If this had happened today, the employee would have been fired or sued or both.

He knew that even though this young boy didn’t have the highest level of education, he was a hard worker and because the company president valued hard work, he paid this young man (who had no high school or college education) a salary higher than that of someone with a college degree! The company president went above and beyond his role as boss and even helped pay for a portion of this young man’s new house. Some might think this foolish to be so generous and place such trust in someone so inexperienced and uneducated. But, I believe the professor and shacyou had the character strengths that allowed him to nurture this boy’s growth and development, as an employee and a human being.

When my wife’s father died, the employee shared that his heart was broken. Many loyal students and employees attended the funeral. To this day, many years after the professor’s death and about 40 years from when he was hired as a 15 year old boy, this employee still works for the family business. Now that’s loyalty.

In “Leading with Character,” John J. Sosik talks about the character strengths that leaders must develop in themselves and others to create and sustain organizational growth and performance. Sosik mentions the 23 character strengths (grouped under six virtues) that are foundational to good character: wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.

The president of the company [“daihyo-torishimariyaku” or 代表取締役 or “shacyou” or 社長] exemplified FOUR character strengths that modeled leadership and created employee loyalty at its finest:

Humility: Most people never knew about all of the professor’s awards and recognitions until they visited his home, only to be pleasantly surprised by the numerous accolades under his name.

Forgiveness & Self-Control: He possessed forgiveness and self-control by not going ballistic when the employee destroyed an entire floor of a brand new building (the second incident within a year).

Kindness: The professor and company president demonstrated, through his kindness, that his employees matter much more than the tasks that he asked of them. This was evident in the respectful way he treated the employee who burned down a customer’s house.

We often read or hear about leaders who are mavericks, with personalities and egos to match. But how many business owners or leaders do you know who display the character strengths of humility, forgiveness, self-control, and kindness?

“Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.” -Democritus, 460-370 BC, Greek philosopher

Reference

Sosik, J.J. (2006). Leading with character: Stories of valor and virtue and the principles they teach. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

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