The OAF Blog

What Defines Character in a Leader

February 24, 2014

I recently attended a leadership program at the Ivey School of Business. It involves a lot of reading and I found one article interesting and I think useful for board members and arts managers who are hiring for a new position.  As well as skills and experience that we look for in a candidate, this paper referenced three particular criteria – competencies, commitment and character. One of the more difficult elements to assess is leadership character.

Competencies and Commitment

When hiring, competencies matter – they define what the candidate is able to do, the skills he/she will bring to the role. These include intellect, organizational, business, people interaction and strategic thinking. As well commitment is critical, as it indicates the degree to which an individual will be willing to want to, and do the challenging work of leading an organization – will they be engaged in their role, show you that they are prepared to invest what will be necessary to be successful.

The article became most interesting in the commentary about character. As the authors state – “..character counts.” Character will determine how a leader perceives the environment in which they work, it determines how they will apply the skills and competencies they have and shapes the decisions to be made. Character influences what information a leader will look for, consider and how they interpret it and then implement.

The article defines character in three dimensions:

      • Traits, such as open-mindedness or extroversion. They will predispose a person to behave in a certain way.

      •  Values, such as loyalty and honesty, which are deeply held beliefs about what is right/wrong – what it makes sense to do in an organizational context

      •  Virtues , such as courage or accountability – behaviors that are demonstrative of a ‘good leader’


Character is described as comprising 11 dimensions – integrity, humility, courage, humanity, drive, accountability, temperance, justice, collaboration, transcendence and judgment. The article describes each in depth and illustrates how it connects with the qualities you are looking for in a leader. As an example, integrity is described a wholeness and soundness of leadership character. It will be apparent in principles such as honesty, candor, transparency and authenticity.

In most hiring processes, in both business and not for profit worlds, much time has been spent by human resources groups on developing competency profiles and ways to assess/measure those competencies. Much less effort has been placed on character. Character reflects the capability of a person that may not be immediately evident. It may seem to be subjective, but the article tries to describe appropriate behaviors and measures that can  identify the dimensions of character within an overall assessment of an individual.

Character is revealed by how people behave in situations. To uncover more of a person’s character during the hiring process, it is important to conduct an extensive examination of the person’s  life and work history – in good times and bad. You learn more by asking how the candidate responded to a fact situation in their past, than by asking how they would respond to a future, hypothetical situation. Integrating character and character development into the hiring/selection process may help identify the best candidate from a group of several well qualified, experienced individuals you are considering.

To read the full article,  follow this link:



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