KlaBuil 07-07-66

Building Character

Strengthening the Heart of Good Leadership



Gene Klann

John Wiley & Sons, 2007, 212 pp., ISBN 0-7879-8151-6



Gene Klann, a retired Army commander, is a senior member of the training faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina.  In the context of failing leadership in all kinds of institutions, Klann has provided a model and processes for developing positive character in leaders at all levels using the five E's--Example, Education, Experience, Evaluation, and Environment.  Each chapter ends with some good questions.


"The leader must set the example."  (Preface)


Chapter 1: Character and Leadership

"Who was the best leader you ever worked for?


       Who was the worst?

       Why?" (1)


"Over time, for better or worse, most leaders exhibit consistent patterns of leadership behavior.  The pattern shapes their reputation…, is considered a reflection of their character, and largely determines their standing and status with others." (1)


"Leadership is about motivating, inspiring, encouraging, and influencing people." (3) 


"Everything new that happens or does not happen in your organization--including any response to change--depends on the quality of your leaders." (4)


"Being a leader of character means that life is not so much about what you yourself can accomplish as it is about caring for and behaving so as to meet the needs of others in ways that bring out their best.  To lead is to influence." 94)


"True effectiveness means using leadership influence to unite the organization's efforts toward and past any single bottom-line moment.  It means achieving goals and objectives in such a way that the team is still intact, morale is high, and people are lined up to get on the team." (6) 


"Leadership character is defined as behaviors that have a positive influence on others." (7) 


"For leaders, consistency means always reflecting the same basic principles in practice."  "Consistency also implies that a leader's behaviors and character are not compartmentalized between work and personal life."  "Responsibilities, stresses, and personalities may vary, but your character does not."  "Behaviors reflect a leader's character regardless of the context.  In every context, your character will be noticed and judged." (8)


According to Klann, our behaviors originate in our needs and values and our needs derive from our values, the things that really matter to us.  He provides a resource in Appendix A for clarifying your personal values.  But values are only one of ten items than define leadership character. (13-16)


Making choices consistent with our value system and our organization's value system is a good general guideline. (17) 


The five E's in brief: (18-19)

Example - Influencing others through their observation of our behavior

Experience - Exposing leaders to new and challenging leadership work

Education - Providing knowledge and training related to character development

Environment - The organizational culture and its value system

Evaluation - Feedback, performance appraisal, and discipline when needed


Q 2. "In what ways do you currently see yourself and your cadre of leaders as being effective and influential?  In what ways not?"


Chapter 2: Five Influential Attributes -

Courage, Caring, Optimism, Self-Control, Communication

"Attributes must be inferred from behavior." (21)


"Moral courage means standing up for one's convictions and values while risking criticism, censure, ridicule, or persecution.  It can also mean a willingness to risk loss of power, position, possessions, or reputation.  It means doing what you believe is right and being willing to take an unpopular position regardless of external or internal pressures not to.  It also means believing that the consequences, whatever they may be, are less important than the position you are taking." (22-3)


It inspires respect when it is recognized as a selfless form of behavior.  The majority play it safe and only a minority take the brave road.  People trust, honor, and revere the courageous. (26)


"Courage yields respect also because it implies that leaders take responsibility for their own actions." (26)


"Leadership automatically implies a human relationship.  Therefore, leaders with a strong social aptitude, relational skills, and a 'people' orientation have a distinct advantage when it comes to influence.  The concept of caring subsumes ideas like consideration, compassion, empathy, sympathy, nurturing, and altruism, as well as love and affection." (28)


"The most important thing I know is that you must love those you want to lead." (29, quoting Kathleen Kennedy)


Caring "does mean seeing humans as the most important resource in an organization--and the one with the most overall potential." (29)


"Optimism is the tendency to take the most hopeful and cheerful view of things and to expect the best outcome." (31)  "People are naturally drawn to leaders who are positive, upbeat, and cheerful."  "Optimism also encourages perseverance and patience." (33)


"Self-control implies taking care of yourself both mentally and physically."  (36)  "For leaders, self-control also means doing things that normally have a high positive influence on others and avoiding those that in the main have a negative influence." (36) 


"When leaders are able to avoid the temptations and enticements to which they are exposed in leadership roles, this raises their stock with those in their orbit of influence." (39)


"Listening is a key element of communication." (42) 


Q. 1.  "In your own experience, what character attributes are most important for leaders?" (47)


Chapter 3.  Example

This may be the most important of the five attributes.  (49)  "Your leadership cadre takes your behaviors as the acceptable standard of conduct." (54) 


"A key element of a truly influential example is believing in or standing for something bigger than yourself."  "…if people see a leader looking out only for personal interests, they won't follow the leader.  Leaders whose example will be followed are those who believe in doing good for those they serve." (56) 


Take some time to review your behavior patterns and take stock of your example.  What effects are you having on those around you?  A series of questions are provided on pp. 60-63. 


Q. 2.  "What leaders or role models do you strive to emulate or live up to?  How?" (64)


Chapter 4.  Experience

Experience can expand your wisdom, understanding, maturity, resilience, credibility, and confidence as well as your knowledge base, expertise, proficiency and skill.  But only if you learn from it, reflecting on what happened, what resulted, and what can be learned.  (66-7) 


"A donkey may have participated in ten military campaigns but when all is said and done it is still a donkey. (67)


"Unless already serving in an upper-level staff position, during peacetime an [Army] officer does not stay in one position for more than two years, and the time is often less.  Since every transfer entails a learning curve, this movement of officer personnel lessens immediate organizational efficiency, but the army consciously accepts this as a price of leadership development." (68)


Difficult assignments are excellent teachers for high-potential developing leaders. "An assignment that requires integrating numerous skills and behaviors is likely to be the best one for developing consistent and influential leadership behavior." (69)  "Developmental assignments contribute to…dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty, having a strong work ethic, and handling stress." (75)


"…every encounter with a boss reinforces or modifies the attitudes, habits, or expectations of a subordinate.  Personal encounters clearly show the developing leader what you, the boss, really stand for." (79)


One can learn a great deal through the experiences of others through biographies.  Klann particularly recommends John McCain's book, Character is Destiny. (79)


The greatest learning and character development comes from hardships, "especially when they cause personal reflection and introspection about a leader's behaviors and influence."  "Hardship can reveal a leader's behavioral blind spots, inconsistencies, weaknesses, personal limitations, and ineffective or bad behaviors.  Hardship can show a leader how life may be out of balance if too much emphasis has been placed on professional activity and too little on other relationships.  Hardship and adversity can also be cleansing." (85) 


Chapter 5.  Education

"Organizations often behave as though any problem can be solved by paying for a bit training." (89)


"Leadership character education should be as practical as possible and based on as many real-world how-to examples as can be found.  Practical training teaches how to behave, do, apply, and put things into practice.  The best practical training is usually highly participatory…."  "Effective questioning is essential because… questions teach us to think."  "Practical training should focus on solving problems."  "Adult training should be as hands-on and as experiential as possible." (90-1)


"Effective adult education also requires follow-up experiential activities to reinforce behaviors." (92)  "Adult training should be structured as an ongoing process and not simply as an isolated event."  "Process also means that there should be post program activities to check on participants' progress." (93) 


"…the adult trainer's role is more that of a facilitator than of an expert or authority who prescribes, directs, or mandates.  Facilitation is effective because it reduces defensiveness and push-back, encourages participation, stimulates thinking, promotes retention, and lends itself to more successful application." (94) 


Klann lists a series of goals for leadership training. (97 ff.)


"Do all you can to instill the idea that self-education is an important personal responsibility.  When leaders understand this, they show greater motivation, retention, and practical application of what they learn." (107)


"Readers are leaders and leaders are readers." (107)


Q. 6.  "Would an ongoing book discussion group be worth forming at your organization?  Why or why not?" (109)


Chapter 6. Environment

"The concept of organizational culture carries with it the idea of an identity, a meaningful unity of ideas, achievements, capabilities, and vision.  Metaphorically, culture is the air the organization breathes, the water it drinks, and the ground it walks on." (111)


"An organization's environment can greatly encourage or impede the development of leadership character." (111)


"Values identify what is most important to an organization and its culture--its core principles, convictions, and priorities."  "Organizational value systems lend focus." The culture affects leaders' behaviors and choices and affects the leader's ability to influence others. (112) 


Unwritten rules evolve in every company and greatly shape the culture. Many times what is said in written statements does not reflect the bottom line of the culture.  (112-113) "When positive patterns of behavior are not emphasized over negative ones, the message is clear: the organization values and prefers qualities other than character and thus has little interest in character development." (114)


"Relevant, realistic values are more likely to be accepted and followed if they embody the input of all levels of the organization."  "Values can help leaders stay within ethical boundaries if there are disciplinary consequences for violations at all levels of the organization."  All levels is important because senior leaders set the behavioral standards. (115)


"If leadership character development is a priority, then you and the organization's other leaders must make that clear, constantly placing an emphasis on it and making sure it permeates the culture." (117)  


Many businesses say they value their people but internally it's a joke.  Your culture must absolutely value its people, especially its leadership capital. (118)


Leadership development should be part of the business strategy and plan. "A business plan shows most clearly what the organization values…" (125)


Q. 1.  "What main written and unwritten values govern your organization?" (126)


Chapter 7. Evaluation

"…evaluation involves observing the behavior of members of your cadre, then comparing what they do with the organization's values and standards."  "Together with feedback, evaluation also assists cadre leaders in adjusting their own behaviors for more positive influence." (127)


"Feedback should include information about the appropriateness, quality, consistency, and extent of impact of a leader's behaviors." (127)  Of the five E's, evaluation is the biggest challenge. (127)  Feedback, appraisal and discipline can be difficult and controversial. (128) 


"Ongoing feedback is the foundation and core of any developmental experience and character development is no exception.  Without feedback, it is almost impossible for leaders to develop and improve their behaviors." (130) 


"For feedback to be effective, you…first need to establish and communicate clear expectations…."  (121)  "Assessment feedback for character development can focus on behavioral choices that inherently have character implications."  "Many relate to decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, team building, use of funds and other resources, and how people are handled." (See Appendix B) (131)


"Whether positive or negative, behavioral feedback shows recipients they are cared about and that their development is considered important." (131)


"Giving feedback is a skill and does not come naturally to most leaders.  It must be learned and constantly practiced." (132)  The feedback model includes the situation, the behavior and the impact.  (134)


Assessment feedback should be an ongoing process, not just an annual event. "Timely feedback can be more specific, allows assessment of usual, simple behaviors, and requires less formality." (134) 


It's good to weight ongoing feedback with more positive than negative comments.  "All-positive feedback will be dismissed and all-negative will create ill will and resentment."  (135)


Focus on the impact, not the personality.  Your tone of voice matters.  It communicates more than the words.  Where possible, cushion the feedback with 'and' rather than 'but.'  Instead of telling them what to do about it, ask them what they think they should do. (136-37)


People will do the things for which they are held accountable and evaluated and avoid things they shouldn't do if negative consequences follow. (138)


"To discipline means to teach, not to carry out justice or punish.  When things have reached a state calling for punishment, the right move is to terminate employment.  Discipline needs to include instruction to stop a wrong behavior, along with instruction that helps the person take a different, appropriate path.  Discipline must include informing someone why they need to change behaviors." (144)


"To nurture means simply to do those things that are in the best professional interests of the individual in both the short and long term.  That includes discipline when it is warranted." (146)


"To skillfully correct another person is one of the best ways a leader of character can show interest in the individual's development and future."  (146)


"Discipline should always be fair, prompt, and focused on maintaining the dignity of the employee."  "Be as specific as possible about the behavior in question and why it was inappropriate."  "Explain your expectations for how the behavior will change….  Finally, make sure to clearly understand (by hearing it in the recipient's own words) what the recipient will be doing to change the undesirable behavior." (147)


Chapter 8.  Next Steps

This chapter provides a framework for a procedure for starting a leadership character development process in your organization including assessment, planning, and execution and adjustment. (151)



Illustration:  Courage.  Napoleon (80)  Vince Lombardi (81) 


Illustration: Vision: Disney 'saw' Disney World (118)


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