A Question of Character
Vince Lombardi - Legendary Coach and Leader
The genesis of this post began a few years ago when I delivered a presentation on Leadership to
a group Fortune 500 executives. As with every talk or presentation, I begin by framing a few
questions and then build out from there. In this case, the primary question was, ‘What role
does character play in leadership?” I trust you will enjoy what follows…
Leadership is all about one enduring quality: character. Popularity is temporary; change is
often unpredictable; and interest rates always fluctuate. The one true constant is a person’s
Leaders who possess good character are those who — through repeated good acts — achieve an
appropriate balance of the virtues in his life. Therefore, like a successful athlete, the virtuous
person plays a consistently good game. As Aristotle rightly noted, ‘we are what we repeatedly
A company or team’s underlying spirit is created from the top. If an enterprise conveys a great
spirit, its top people display a positive attitude. If it decays, however, it does so because the
top rots; just as a fish rots from the head.
Character is shaped by drive, competence, and integrity. While many leaders possess the drive
and competence necessary to lead, far too many lack the moral compass. These types of
leaders tend to be self-serving, and sabotage the spirit of an enterprise. As these people
assume greater power and authority, it works to create an Achilles heel of pride and arrogance.
This serves only to erode the trust of followers.
People have an indisputable, divine right to expect and demand good character and exemplary
conduct from their leaders.
The true test and strength of an enterprise is not to be found in a company’s products or
services, but in the character of its leaders. It serves as the conscience of the community.
Leadership is exercised through character; personality sets the example and is imitated by
others in the organization. Character is not something one about which can fool people about.
A lack of character will “rat out” your true intentions, no matter how hard you attempt to
cover them up.
Good leaders have a strong moral fiber and sound ethics; they do not lie, cheat or steal. Ethical
behavior is not easy; but it is essential to effective leadership. Ethical leaders are self-
confident; not self-centered. There is no gray area when it comes to character and integrity —
it’s foundational. With it, a committed team can produce outstanding results; without it, there
is no respect or moral authority to execute.
So, are you the kind of person that others want to follow? The answer to that question depends
on your character. A strong leader sets a strong example. No one, under any circumstances,
should ever be appointed to or accept a leadership role unless they are willing to have his or
her character serve as the model for others to emulate!